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Routledge's Etiquette for Ladies.
To introduce persons who are mutually unknown is to undertake a serious responsibility, and to certify to each the respectability of the other. Never undertake this responsibility without in the first place asking yourself whether the persons are likely to be agreeable to each other; nor, in the second place, without ascertaining whether it will be acceptable to both parties to become acquainted.
Always introduce the gentleman to the lady--never the lady to the gentleman. The chivalry of etiquette assumes that the lady is invariably the superior in right of her sex, and that the gentleman is honored in the introduction. This rule is to be observed even when the social rank of the gentleman is higher than that of the lady.
Where the sexes are the same, always present the inferior to the
Never present a gentleman to a lady without first asking her
permission to do so.
When you are introduced to a gentleman, never offer your hand. When introduced, persons limit their recognition of each other to a bow. On the Continent, ladies never shake hands with gentlemen unless under circumstances of great intimacy.
Never introduce morning visitors who happen to encounter each other in your drawing-room, unless they are persons whom you have already obtained permission to make known to each other. Visitors thus casually meeting in the house of a friend should converse with ease and freedom, as if they were acquainted. That they are both friends of the hostess is a sufficient guarantee of their respectability. To be silent and stiff on such an occasion would show much-ignorance and ill-breeding.
Persons who have met at the house of a mutual friend, without being introduced, should not bow if they afterwards meet elsewhere. A bow implies acquaintance; and persons who have not been introduced are not acquainted.
If you are walking with one friend, and presently meet with, or are joined by, a third, do not commit the too frequent error of introducing them to each other. You have even less right to do so than if they encountered each other at your house during a morning call.
There are some exceptions to the etiquette of introductions. At a ball, or evening party where there is dancing, the mistress of the house may introduce any gentleman to any lady without first asking the lady's permission. But she should first ascertain whether the lady is willing to dance; and this out of consideration for the gentleman, who may otherwise be refused. No man likes to be refused the hand of a lady, though it be only for a quadrille.
A sister may present her brother, or a mother her son, without any kind of preliminary; but only when there is no inferiority on the part of her own family to that of the acquaintance.
Friends may introduce friends at the house of a mutual acquaintance; but, as a rule, it is better to be introduced by the mistress of the house. Such an introduction carries more authority with it.
Introductions at evening parties are now almost wholly dispensed with. Persons who meet at a friend's house are ostensibly upon an equality, and pay a bad compliment to the host by appearing suspicious and formal. Some old-fashioned country hosts yet persevere in introducing each new comer to all the assembled guests. It is a custom that cannot be too soon abolished, and one that places the last unfortunate visitor in a singularly awkward position. All that she can do is to make a semicircular courtesy, like a concert singer before an audience, and bear the general gaze with as much composure as possible.
If, when you enter a drawing-room, your name has been wrongly announced, or has passed unheard in the buzz of conversation, make your way at once to the mistress of the house, if you are a stranger, and introduce yourself by name. This should be done with the greatest simplicity, and your rank made as little of as possible.
An introduction given at a ball for the mere purpose of conducting a lady through a dance does not give the gentleman any right to bow to her on a future occasion. If he commits this error, she may remember that she is not bound to see, or return, his salutation.
II.--LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION.
Do not lightly give or promise letters of introduction. Always remember that when you give a letter of introduction you lay yourself under an obligation to the friend to whom it is addressed. If she lives in a great city, such as Paris or London, you in a measure compel her to undergo the penalty of escorting the stranger to some of those places of public entertainment in which the capital abounds. If your friend be a married lady, and the mistress of a house, you put her to the expense of inviting the stranger to her table. We cannot be too cautious how we tax the time and purse of a friend, or weigh too seriously the question of mutual advantage in the introduction. Always ask yourself whether the person introduced will be an acceptable acquaintance to the one to whom you present her; and whether the pleasure of knowing her will compensate for the time or money which it costs to entertain her. If the stranger is in any way unsuitable in habits or temperament, you inflict an annoyance on your friend instead of a pleasure. In questions of introduction never oblige one friend to the discomfort of another.
Those to whom letters of introduction have been given, should send them to the person to whom they are addressed, and enclose a card. Never deliver a letter of introduction in person. It places you in the most undignified position imaginable, and compels you to wait while it is being read, like a servant who has been told to wait for an answer. There is also another reason why you should not be yourself the bearer of your introduction; i.e., you compel the other person to receive you, whether she chooses or not. It may be that she is sufficiently ill-bred to take no notice of the letter when sent, and in such case, if you presented yourself with it, she would most probably receive you with rudeness. It is, at all events, more polite on your part to give her the option, and, perhaps, more pleasant. If the receiver of the letter be a really well-bred person, she will call upon you or leave her card the next day, and you should return her attentions within the week.
If, on the other hand, a stranger sends you a letter of introduction and her card, you are bound by the laws of politeness and hospitality, not only to call upon her the next day, but to follow up that attention with others. If you are in a position to do so, the most correct proceeding is to invite her to dine with you. Should this not be within your power, you can probably escort her to some of the exhibitions, bazaars, or concerts of the season; any of which would be interesting to a foreigner or provincial visitor. In short, etiquette demands that you shall exert yourself to show kindness to the stranger, if only out of compliment to the friend who introduced her to you.
If you invite her to dine with you, it is a better compliment to ask some others to meet her than to dine with her _tête-à-tête_. You are thereby giving her an opportunity of making other acquaintances, and are assisting your friend in still farther promoting the purpose for which she gave her the introduction to yourself.
Be careful at the same time only to ask such persons as she will feel are at least her own social equals.
A letter of introduction should be given unsealed, not alone because your friend may wish to know what you have said of her, but also as a guarantee of your own good faith. As you should never give such a letter unless you can speak highly of the bearer, this rule of etiquette is easy to observe. By requesting your friend to fasten the envelope before forwarding the letter to its destination, you tacitly give her permission to inspect its contents.
Let your note-paper be of the best quality and the proper size. Albert or Queen's size is the best for these purposes.
It has been well said that "attention to the punctilios of politeness is a proof at once of self-respect, and of respect for your friend." Though irksome at first, these trifles soon cease to be matters for memory, and become things of mere habit. To the thoroughly well-bred they are a second nature. Let no one neglect them who is desirous of pleasing in society; and, above all, let no one deem them unworthy of attention. They are precisely the trifles which do most to make social intercourse agreeable, and a knowledge of which distinguishes the gentlewoman from the _parvenu_.
A morning visit should be paid between the hours of two and four p.m., in winter, and two and five in summer. By observing this rule you avoid intruding before the luncheon is removed, and leave in sufficient time to allow the lady of the house an hour or two of leisure for her dinner toilette.
Be careful always to avoid luncheon hours when you pay morning visits. Some ladies dine with their children at half-past one, and are consequently unprepared for the early reception of visitors. When you have once ascertained this to be the case, be careful never again to intrude at the same hour.
A good memory for these trifles is one of the hall-marks of good breeding.
Visits of ceremony should be short. If even the conversation should have become animated, beware of letting your call exceed half-an-hour's length. It is always better to let your friends regret than desire your withdrawal.
On returning visits of ceremony you may, without impoliteness, leave your card at the door without going in. Do not fail, however, to inquire if the family be well.
Should there be daughters or sisters residing with the lady upon whom you call, you may turn down a corner of your card, to signify that the visit is paid to all. It is in better taste, however, to leave cards for each.
Unless when returning thanks for "kind inquiries," or announcing your arrival in, or departure from, town, it is not considered respectful to send round cards by a servant.
Leave-taking cards have P.P.C. (_pour prendre conge_) written in the corner. Some use P.D.A. (_pour dire adieu_).
It is not the fashion on the Continent for unmarried ladies to affix any equivalent to the English "Miss" to their visiting cards. _Emilie Dubois_, or _Kaetchen Clauss_, is thought more simple and elegant than if preceded by _Mademoiselle_ or _Frauelein_. Some English girls have of late adopted this good custom, and it would be well if it became general.
Autographic facsimiles for visiting cards are affectations in any persons but those who are personally remarkable for talent, and whose autographs, or facsimiles of them, would be prized as curiosities. A card bearing the autographic signature of Agnes Strickland or Mary Somerville, though only a lithographic facsimile, would have a certain interest; whereas the signature of Jane Smith would be not only valueless; but would make the owner ridiculous.
Visits of condolence are paid within the week after the event which occasions them. Personal visits of this kind are made by relations and very intimate friends only. Acquaintances should leave cards with narrow mourning borders.
On the first occasion when you are received by the family after the death of one of its members, it is etiquette to wear slight mourning.
Umbrellas should invariably be left in the hall.
Never take favorite dogs into a drawing-room when you make a morning call. Their feet may be dusty, or they may bark at the sight of strangers, or, being of too friendly a disposition, may take the liberty of lying on a lady's gown, or jumping on the sofas and easy chairs. Where your friend has a favorite cat already established before the fire, a battle may ensue, and one or other of the pets be seriously hurt.
Besides, many persons have a constitutional antipathy to dogs, and others never allow their own to be seen in the sitting-rooms. For all or any of these reasons, a visitor has no right to inflict upon her friend the society of her dog as well as of herself. Neither is it well for a mother to take young children with her when she pays morning visits; their presence, unless they are unusually well trained, can only be productive of anxiety to both yourself and your hostess. She, while striving to amuse them, or to appear interested in them, is secretly anxious for the fate of her album, or the ornaments on her _étagère_; while the mother is trembling lest her children should say or do something objectionable.
If other visitors are announced, and you have already remained as long as courtesy requires, wait till they are seated, and then rise from your chair, take leave of your hostess, and bow politely to the newly arrived guests. You will, perhaps, be urged to remain, but, having once risen, it is best to go. There is always a certain air of _gaucherie_ in resuming your seat and repeating the ceremony of leave-taking.
If you have occasion to look at your watch during a call, ask permission to do so, and apologize for it on the plea of other appointments.
In receiving morning visitors, it is not necessary that the lady should lay aside the employment in which she may be engaged, particularly if it consists of light or ornamental needle-work. Politeness, however, requires that music, drawing, or any occupation which would completely engross the attention, be at once abandoned.
You need not advance to receive visitors when announced, unless they are persons to whom you are desirous of testifying particular attention. It is sufficient if a lady rises to receive her visitors, moves forward a single step to shake hands with them, and remains standing till they are seated.
When your visitors rise to take leave you should rise also, and remain standing till they have quite left the room. Do not accompany them to the door, but be careful to ring in good time, that the servant may be ready in the hall to let them out.
A lady should dress well, but not too richly, when she pays a morning visit. If she has a carriage at command, she may dress more elegantly than if she were on foot. The question of morning and afternoon dress will be found fully treated in Section VII.
There is no conversation so graceful, so varied, so sparkling, as that of an intellectual and cultivated woman. Excellence in this particular is, indeed, one of the attributes of the sex, and should be cultivated by every gentlewoman who aspires to please in general society.
In order to talk well, three conditions are indisputable, namely--tact, a good memory, and a fair education.
Remember that people take more interest in their own affairs than in anything else which you can name. If you wish your conversation to be thoroughly agreeable, lead a mother to talk of her children, a young lady of her last ball, an author of his forthcoming book, or an artist of his exhibition picture. Having furnished the topic, you need only listen; and you are sure to be thought not only agreeable, but thoroughly sensible and well-informed.
Be careful, however, on the other hand, not always to make a point of talking to persons upon general matters relating to their professions. To show an interest in their immediate concerns is flattering; but to converse with them too much about their own arts looks as if you thought them ignorant of other topics.
Remember in conversation that a voice "gentle and low" is, above all other extraneous acquirements, "an excellent thing in woman." There is a certain distinct but subdued tone of voice which is peculiar to only well-bred persons. A loud voice is both disagreeable and vulgar. It is better to err by the use of too low than too loud a tone.
Remember that all "slang" is vulgar. It has become of late unfortunately prevalent, and we know many ladies who pride themselves on the saucy _chique_ with which they adopt certain Americanisms, and other cant phrases of the day. Such habits cannot be too severely reprehended. They lower the tone of society and the standard of thought. It is a great mistake to suppose that slang is in any way a substitute for wit.
The use of proverbs is equally vulgar in conversation; and puns, unless they rise to the rank of witticisms, are to be scrupulously avoided. A lady-punster is a most unpleasing phenomenon, and we would advise no young woman, however witty she may be, to cultivate this kind of verbal talent.
Long arguments in general company, however entertaining to the disputants, are tiresome to the last degree to all others. You should always endeavor to prevent the conversation from dwelling too long upon one topic.
Religion is a topic which should never be introduced in society. It is the one subject on which persons are most likely to differ, and least able to preserve temper.
Never interrupt a person who is speaking. It has been aptly said that "if you interrupt a speaker in the middle of his sentence, you act almost as rudely as if, when walking with a companion, you were to thrust yourself before him, and stop his progress."
To listen well is almost as great an art as to talk well. It is not enough _only_ to listen. You must endeavor to seem interested in the conversation of others.
It is considered extremely ill-bred when two persons whisper in society, or converse in a language with which all present are not familiar. If you have private matters to discuss, you should appoint a proper time and place to do so, without paying others the ill compliment of excluding them from your conversation.
If a foreigner be one of the guests at a small party, and does not understand English sufficiently to follow what is said, good breeding demands that the conversation shall be carried on in his own language. If at a dinner-party, the same rule applies to those at his end of the table.
If upon the entrance of a visitor you carry on the thread of a previous conversation, you should briefly recapitulate to him what has been said before he arrived.
Do not be _always_ witty, even though you should be so happily gifted as to need the caution. To outshine others on every occasion is the surest road to unpopularity.
Always look, but never stare, at those with whom you converse.
In order to meet the general needs of conversation in society, it is necessary that a gentlewoman should be acquainted with the current news and historical events of at least the last few years.
Never talk upon subjects of which you know nothing, unless it be for the purpose of acquiring information. Many young ladies imagine that because they play a little, sing a little, draw a little, and frequent exhibitions and operas, they are qualified judges of art. No mistake is more egregious or universal.
Those who introduce anecdotes into their conversation are warned that these should invariably be "short, witty, eloquent, new, and not far-fetched."
Scandal is the least excusable of all conversational vulgarities.
In conversing with a woman of rank, do not too frequently give her her title. Only a lady's-maid interlards every sentence with "My Lady," or "My Lord." It is, however, well to show that you remember the station of your interlocutor by now and then introducing some such phrase as--"I think I have already mentioned to your Grace"--or, "I believe, Madam, you were observing--"
A peer or baron may occasionally, as in an address, be styled "My Lord," but a lady of equal rank must only be addressed as "Madam."
In general, however, a nobleman or lady of high rank should only be addressed as you would address any other gentleman or lady. The Prince of Wales himself is only styled "Sir" in conversation, and the Queen "Madam."
V.--NOTES OF INVITATION, &C.
Notes of invitation and acceptance are written in the third person and the simplest style. The old-fashioned preliminary of "presenting compliments" is discontinued by the most elegant letter writers.
All notes of invitation are now issued in the name of the mistress of the house only, as follows:--
"Mrs. Norman requests the honor of Sir George and Lady Thurlow's company at an evening party, on Monday, 14th of June."
Others prefer the subjoined form, which is purchasable ready printed upon either cards or note paper, with blanks for names or dates:--
"Monday evening, June 14th inst."
An "At home" is, however, considered somewhat less stately than an evening party, and partakes more of the character of a _conversazione_.
The reply to a note of invitation should be couched as follows:--
"Mr. Berkeley has much pleasure in accepting Mrs. Norman's polite invitation for Monday evening, June the 14th instant."
Never "avail" yourself of an invitation. Above all, never speak or write of an invitation as "an invite." It is neither good breeding nor good English.
Notes of invitation and reply should be written on small paper of the best quality, and enclosed in envelopes to correspond.
Note paper of the most dainty and fastidious kind may be used by a lady with propriety and elegance, but only when she is writing to her friends and equals. Business letters or letters to her tradespeople should be written on plain paper, and enclosed either in an adhesive envelope, or sealed with red wax.
Never omit the address and date from any letter, whether of business or friendship.
Letters in the first person addressed to strangers should begin with "Sir," or "Madam," and end with "I have the honor to be your very obedient servant." Some object to this form of words from a mistaken sense of pride; but it is merely a form, and, rightly apprehended, evinces a "proud humility," which implies more condescension than a less formal phrase.
At the end of your letter, at some little distance below your signature, and in the left corner of your paper, write the name of the person to whom your letter is addressed; as "Lady Dalhousie," or "Edward Munroe, Esquire."
It is more polite to write Esquire at full length than to curtail it to Esq.
In writing to persons much your superior or inferior, use as few words as possible. In the former case, to take up much of a great man's time is to take a liberty; in the latter, to be diffuse is to be too familiar. It is only in familiar correspondence that long letters are permissible.
In writing to a tradesman, begin your letter by addressing him by name, as--
A letter thus begun may, with propriety, be ended with--
"Sir, yours truly."
Letters to persons whom you meet frequently in society, without having arrived at intimacy, may commence with "Dear Madam," and end with "I am, dear Madam, yours very truly."
Letters commencing "My dear Madam," addressed to persons whom you appreciate, and with whom you are on friendly terms, may end with "I am, my dear Madam, yours very faithfully," or "yours very sincerely."
To be prompt in replying to a letter is to be polite.
Lady correspondents are too apt to over-emphasize in their letter-writing, and in general evince a sad disregard of the laws of punctuation. We would respectfully suggest that a comma is not designed to answer every purpose, and that the underlining of every second or third word adds nothing to the eloquence or clearness of a letter, however certain it may be to provoke an unflattering smile upon the lips of the reader.
All letters must be prepaid.
In England, a lady may accept the arm of a gentleman with whom she is walking, even though he be only an acquaintance. This is not the case either in America or on the Continent. There a lady can take the arm of no gentleman who is not either her husband, lover, or near relative.
If a lady has been making purchases during her walk, she may permit the gentleman who accompanies her to carry any small, parcel that she may have in her own hand; but she should not burthen him with more than one under any circumstances whatever.
Two ladies may without any impropriety take each one arm of a single cavalier; but one lady cannot, with either grace or the sanction of custom take the arms of two gentlemen at the same time.
When a lady is walking with a gentleman in a park, or public garden, or through the rooms of an exhibition, and becomes fatigued, it is the gentleman's duty to find her a seat. If, however, as is very frequently the case, he is himself obliged to remain standing, the lady should make a point of rising as soon as she is sufficiently rested, and not abuse either the patience or politeness of her companion.
It is the place of the lady to bow first, if she meets a gentleman of her acquaintance. When you meet friends or acquaintances in the streets, the exhibitions, or any public places, be careful not to pronounce their names so loudly as to attract the attention of bystanders. Never call across the street, or attempt to carry on a dialogue in a public vehicle, unless your interlocutor occupies the seat beside your own.
To dress well requires something more than a full purse and a pretty figure. It needs taste, good sense, and refinement. Dress may almost be classed as one of the fine arts. It is certainly one of those arts, the cultivation of which is indispensable to any person moving in the upper or middle classes of society. Very clever women are too frequently indifferent to the graces of the toilette; and women who wish to be thought clever affect indifference. In the one case it is an error, and in the other a folly. It is not enough that a gentlewoman should be clever, or well-educated, or well-born. To take her due place in society, she must be acquainted with all that this little book proposes to teach. She must, above all else, know how to enter a room, how to perform a graceful salutation, and how to dress. Of these three important qualifications, the most important, because the most observed, is the latter.
Let your style of dress always be appropriate to the hour of the day. To dress too finely in the morning, or to be seen in a morning dress in the evening, is equally vulgar and out of place.
Light and inexpensive materials are fittest for morning wear; dark silk dresses for the promenade or carriage; and low dresses of rich or transparent stuffs for the dinner and ball. A young lady cannot dress with too much simplicity in the early part of the day. A morning dress of some simple material, and delicate whole color, with collar and cuffs of spotless linen, is, perhaps, the most becoming and elegant of morning toilettes.
Never dress very richly or showily in the street. It attracts attention of no enviable kind, and is looked upon as a want of good breeding. In the carriage a lady may dress as elegantly as she pleases. With respect to ball-room toilette, its fashions are so variable, that statements which are true of it to-day, may be false a month hence. Respecting no institution of modern society is it so difficult to pronounce half-a-dozen permanent rules.
We may, perhaps, be permitted to suggest the following leading principles; but we do so with diffidence. Rich colors harmonize with rich brunette complexions and dark hair. Delicate colors are the most suitable for delicate and fragile styles of beauty. Very young ladies are never so suitably attired as in white. Ladies who dance should wear dresses of light and diaphanous materials, such as _tulle_, gauze, crape, net, &c., over colored silk slips. Silk dresses are not suitable for dancing. A married lady who dances only a few quadrilles may wear a _décolleté_ silk dress with propriety.
Very stout persons should never wear white. It has the effect of adding to the bulk of the figure.
Black and scarlet, or black and violet, are worn in mourning.
A lady in deep mourning should not dance at all.
However fashionable it may be to wear very long dresses, those ladies who go to a ball with the intention of dancing and enjoying the dance, should cause their dresses to be made short enough to clear the ground. We would ask them whether it is not better to accept this slight deviation from an absurd fashion, than to appear for three parts of the evening in a torn and pinned-up skirt?
Well-made shoes, whatever their color or material, and faultless gloves, are indispensable to the effect of a ball-room toilette.
Much jewelry is out of place in a ball-room. Beautiful flowers, whether natural or artificial, are the loveliest ornaments that a lady can wear on these occasions.
At small dinner parties, low dresses are not so indispensable as they were held to be some years since. High dresses of transparent materials, and low bodices with capes of black lace, are considered sufficiently full dress on these occasions. At large dinners only the fullest dress is appropriate.
Very young ladies should wear but little jewelry. Pearls are deemed most appropriate for the young and unmarried.
Let your jewelry be always the best of its kind. Nothing is so vulgar, either in youth or age, as the use of false ornaments.
There is as much propriety to be observed in the wearing of jewelry as in the wearing of dresses. Diamonds, pearls, rubies, and all transparent precious stones belong to evening dress, and should on no account be worn before dinner. In the morning let your rings be of the more simple and massive kind; wear no bracelets; and limit your jewelry to a good brooch, gold chain, and watch. Your diamonds and pearls would be as much out of place during the morning as a low dress, or a wreath.
It is well to remember in the choice of jewelry that mere costliness is not always the test of value; and that an exquisite work of art, such as a fine cameo, or a natural rarity, such as a black pearl, is a more _distingue_ possession than a large brilliant which any rich and tasteless vulgarian can buy as easily as yourself. Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar woman purchases an opal. She invariably prefers the more showy ruby, emerald, or sapphire.
A true gentlewoman is always faultlessly neat. No richness of toilette in the afternoon, no diamonds in the evening, can atone for unbrushed hair, a soiled collar, or untidy slippers at breakfast.
Never be seen in the street without gloves; and never let your gloves be of any material that is not kid or calf. Worsted or cotton gloves are unutterably vulgar. Your gloves should fit to the last degree of perfection.
In these days of public baths and universal progress, we trust that it is unnecessary to do more than hint at the necessity of the most fastidious personal cleanliness. The hair, the teeth, the nails, should be faultlessly kept; and a muslin dress that has been worn once too often, a dingy pocket-handkerchief, or a soiled pair of light gloves, are things to be scrupulously avoided by any young lady who is ambitious of preserving the exterior of a gentlewoman.
Remember that the make of your _corsage_ is of even greater importance than the make of your dress. No dressmaker can fit you well, or make your bodices in the manner most becoming to your figure, if the _corsage_ beneath be not of the best description.
Your boots and gloves should always be faultless.
Perfumes should be used only in the evening, and then in moderation. Let your perfumes be of the most delicate and _recherché_ kind. Nothing is more vulgar than a coarse ordinary scent; and of all coarse, ordinary scents, the most objectionable are musk and patchouli.
Finally, every lady should remember that to dress well is a duty which she owes to society; but that to make it her idol is to commit something worse than a folly. Fashion is made for woman; not woman for fashion.
VIII.--MORNING AND EVENING PARTIES.
The morning party is a modern invention. It was unknown to our fathers and mothers, and even to ourselves till quite lately. A morning party is seldom given out of the season--that is to say, during any months except those of May, June, and July. It begins about two o'clock and ends about five, and the entertainment consists for the most part of conversation, music, and (if there be a garden) croquet, lawn billiards, archery, &c. "Aunt Sally" is now out of fashion. The refreshments are given in the form of a _dejeuner a la fourchette_.
Elegant morning dress, general good manners, and some acquaintance with the topics of the day and the games above named, are all the qualifications especially necessary to a lady at a morning party.
An evening party begins about nine o'clock p.m., and ends about midnight, or somewhat later. Good breeding neither demands that you should present yourself at the commencement, nor remain till the close of the evening. You come and go as may be most convenient to you, and by these means are at liberty, during the height of the season when evening parties are numerous, to present yourself at two or three houses during a single evening.
When your name is announced, look for the lady of the house, and pay your respects to her before you even seem to see any other of your friends who may be in the room. At very large and fashionable receptions, the hostess is generally to be found near the door. Should you, however, find yourself separated by a dense crowd of guests, you are at liberty to recognize those who are near you, and those whom you encounter as you make your way slowly through the throng.
General salutations of the company are now wholly disused. In society a lady only recognizes her own friends and acquaintances.
If you are at the house of a new acquaintance and find yourself among entire strangers, remember that by so meeting under one roof you are all in a certain sense made known to one another, and should, therefore, converse freely, as equals. To shrink away to a side-table and affect to be absorbed in some album or illustrated work; or, if you find one unlucky acquaintance in the room, to fasten upon her like a drowning man clinging to a spar, are _gaucheries_ which no shyness can excuse.
If you possess any musical accomplishments, do not wait to be pressed and entreated by your hostess, but comply immediately when she pays you the compliment of inviting you to play or sing. Remember, however, that only the lady of the house has the right to ask you. If others do so, you can put them off in some polite way; but must not comply till the hostess herself invites you.
Be scrupulous to observe silence when any of the company are playing or singing. Remember that they are doing this for the amusement of the rest; and that to talk at such a time is as ill-bred as if you were to turn your back upon a person who was talking to you, and begin a conversation with some one else.
If you are yourself the performer, bear in mind that in music, as in speech, "brevity is the soul of wit." Two verses of a song, or four pages of a piece, are at all times enough to give pleasure. If your audience desire more they will ask for more; and it is infinitely more flattering to be encored than to receive the thanks of your hearers, not so much in gratitude for what you have given them, but in relief that you have left off. You should try to suit your music, like your conversation, to your company. A solo of Beethoven's would be as much out of place in some circles as a comic song at a Quakers' meeting. To those who only care for the light popularities of the season, give Balfe and Verdi, Glover and Julien. To connoisseurs, if you perform well enough to venture, give such music as will be likely to meet the exigencies of a fine taste. Above all, attempt nothing that you cannot execute with ease and precision.
If the party be of a small and social kind, and those games called by the French _les jeux innocents_ are proposed, do not object to join in them when invited. It maybe that they demand some slight exercise of wit and readiness, and that you do not feel yourself calculated to shine in them; but it is better to seem dull than disagreeable, and those who are obliging can always find some clever neighbor to assist them in the moment of need.
Impromptu charades are frequently organized at friendly parties. Unless you have really some talent for acting and some readiness of speech, you should remember that you only put others out and expose your own inability by taking part in these entertainments. Of course, if your help is really needed, and you would disoblige by refusing, you must do your best, and by doing it as quietly and coolly as possible, avoid being awkward or ridiculous.
Even though you may take no pleasure in cards, some knowledge of the etiquette and rules belonging to the games most in vogue is necessary to you in society. If a fourth hand is wanted at a rubber, or if the rest of the company sit down to a round game, you would be deemed guilty of an impoliteness if you refused to join.
The games most commonly played in society are whist, loo, _vingt-et-un_, and speculation.
Whist requires four players.[A] A pack of cards being spread upon the table with their faces downwards, the four players draw for partners. Those who draw the two highest cards and those who draw the two lowest become partners. The lowest of all claims the deal.
Married people should not play at the same table, unless where the party is so small that it cannot be avoided. This rule supposes nothing so disgraceful to any married couple as dishonest collusion; but persons who play regularly together cannot fail to know so much of each other's mode of acting, under given circumstances, that the chances no longer remain perfectly even in favor of their adversaries.
Never play for higher stakes than you can afford to lose without regret. Cards should be resorted to for amusement only; for excitement, never.
No well-bred person ever loses temper at the card-table. You have no right to sit down to the game unless you can bear a long run of ill-luck with perfect composure, and are prepared cheerfully to pass over any blunders that your partner may chance to make.
If you are an indifferent player, make a point of saying so before you join a party at whist. If the others are fine players they will be infinitely more obliged to you for declining than accepting their invitation. In any case you have no right to spoil their pleasure by your bad play.
Never let even politeness induce you to play for very high stakes.
Etiquette is the minor morality of life; but it never should be allowed to outweigh the higher code of right and wrong.
Young ladies may decline to play at cards without being deemed guilty of impoliteness.
No very young lady should appear at an evening party without an escort.
In retiring from a crowded party it is unnecessary that you should seek out the hostess for the purpose of bidding her a formal good-night. By doing this you would, perhaps, remind others that it was getting late, and cause the party to break up. If you meet the lady of the house on your way to the drawing-room door, take your leave of her as unobtrusively as possible, and slip away without attracting the attention of her other guests.
[Footnote A: For a succinct guide to whist, loo, _vingt-et-un_, speculation, &c., &c., &c., see Routledge's "Card-player," by G.F. Pardon, price _sixpence_.]
To be acquainted with every detail of the etiquette pertaining to this subject is of the highest importance to every gentlewoman. Ease, _savoir faire_, and good breeding are nowhere more indispensable than at the dinner-table, and the absence of them is nowhere more apparent. How to eat soup and what to do with a cherry-stone are weighty considerations when taken as the index of social status; and it is not too much to say, that a young woman who elected to take claret with her fish, or ate peas with her knife, would justly risk the punishment of being banished from good society. As this subject is one of the most important of which we have to treat, we may be pardoned for introducing an appropriate anecdote related by the French poet Delille:--
Delille and Marmontel were dining together in the month of April, 1786, and the conversation happened to turn upon dinner-table customs. Marmontel observed how many little things a well-bred man was obliged to know, if he would avoid being ridiculous at the tables of his friends.
"They are, indeed, innumerable," said Delille; "and the most annoying fact of all is, that not all the wit and good sense in the world can help one to divine them untaught. A little while ago, for instance, the Abbe Cosson, who is Professor of Literature at the College Mazarin, was describing to me a grand dinner to which he had been invited at Versailles, and to which he had sat down in the company of peers, princes, and marshals of France.
"'I'll wager now,' said I, 'that you committed a hundred blunders in the etiquette of the table!'
"'How so?' replied the Abbe, somewhat nettled. 'What blunders could I make? It seems to me that I did precisely as others did.'
"'And I, on the contrary, would stake my life that you did nothing as others did. But let us begin at the beginning, and see which is right. In the first place there was your table napkin--what did you do with that when you sat down at table?'
"'What did I do with my table-napkin? Why, I did like the rest of the guests: I shook it out of the folds, spread it before me, and fastened one corner to my button-hole.'
"'Very well, _mon cher_; you were the only person who did so. No one shakes, spreads, and fastens a table-napkin in that manner. You should have only laid it across your knees. What soup had you?'
"'And how did you eat it?'
"'Like every one else, I suppose. I took my spoon in one hand, and my
fork in the other--'
"'Your fork! Good heavens! None but a savage eats soup with a fork.
But go on. What did you take next?'
"'A boiled egg.'
"'Good; and what did you do with the shell?'
"'Not eat it, certainly. I left it, of course, in the egg-cup.'
"'Without breaking it through with your spoon?'
"'Without breaking it.'
"'Then, my dear fellow, permit me to tell you that no one eats an egg without breaking the shell and leaving the spoon standing in it. And after your egg?'
"'I asked for some _bouilli_.'
"'For _bouilli_! It is a term that no one uses. You should have asked for beef--never for _bouilli_. Well, and after the _bouilli_?'
"'I asked the Abbe de Radonvilliers for some fowl.'
"'Wretched man! Fowl, indeed! You should have asked for chicken or capon. The word "fowl" is never heard out of the kitchen. But all this applies only to what you ate; tell me something of what you drank, and how you asked for it.'
"'I asked for champagne and Bordeaux from those who had the bottles before them.'
"'Know then, my good friend, that only a waiter, who has no time or breath to spare, asks for champagne or Bordeaux. A gentleman asks for _vin de champagne_ and _vin de Bordeaux_. And now inform me how you ate your bread?'
"'Undoubtedly like all the rest of the world. I cut it into small
square pieces with my knife.'
"'Then let me tell you that no one cuts bread. You should always break it. Let us go on to the coffee. How did you drink yours?'
"'Pshaw! At least I could make no mistake in that. It was boiling hot, so I poured it, a little at a time, in the saucer, and drank it as it cooled.'
"'_Eh bien_! then you assuredly acted as no other gentleman in the room. Nothing can be more vulgar than to pour tea or coffee into a saucer. You should have waited till it cooled, and then have drunk it from the cup. And now you see, my dear cousin, that so far from doing precisely as others did, you acted in no one respect according to the laws prescribed by etiquette.'"
An invitation to dine should be replied to immediately, and unequivocally accepted or declined. Once accepted, nothing but an event of the last importance should cause you to fail in your engagement.
To be exactly punctual is the strictest politeness on these occasions. If you are too early, you are in the way; if too late, you spoil the dinner, annoy the hostess, and are hated by the rest of the guests. Some authorities are even of opinion that in the question of a dinner-party "never" is better than "late;" and one author has gone so far as to say, "if you do not reach the house till dinner is served, you had better retire, and send an apology, and not interrupt the harmony of the courses by awkward excuses and cold acceptance."
When the party is assembled, the mistress or master of the house will point out to each gentleman the lady whom he is to conduct to table. The guests then go down according to precedence of rank. This order of precedence must be arranged by the host or hostess, as the guests are probably unacquainted, and cannot know each other's social rank.
When the society is of a distinguished kind the hostess will do well to consult Debrett or Burke, before arranging her visitors.
When rank is not in question, other claims to precedence must be considered. The lady who is the greatest stranger should be taken down by the master of the house, and the gentleman who is the greatest stranger should conduct the hostess. Married ladies take precedence of single ladies, elder ladies of younger ones, and so forth.
When dinner is announced, the host offers his arm to the lady of most distinction, invites the rest to follow by a few words or a bow, and leads the way. The lady of the house should then follow with the gentleman who is most entitled to that honor, and the visitors follow in the order that has been previously arranged. The lady of the house frequently remains, however, till the last, that she may see her guests go down in their prescribed order; but the plan is not a convenient one. It is much better that the hostess should be in her place as the guests enter the dining-room, in order that she may indicate their seats to them as they enter, and not find them all crowded together in uncertainty when she arrives.
The number of guests at a dinner-party should always be determined by the size of the table. When the party is too small, conversation flags, and a general air of desolation pervades the table. When they are too many, every one is inconvenienced. A space of two feet should be allowed to each person. It is well to arrange a party in such wise that the number of ladies and gentlemen be equal.
It requires some tact to distribute your guests so that each shall find himself with a neighbor to his taste; but as much of the success of a dinner will always depend on this matter, it is worth some consideration. If you have a wit, or a particularly good talker, among your visitors, it is well to place him near the center of the table, where he can be heard and talked to by all. It is obviously a bad plan to place two such persons in close proximity. They extinguish each other. Neither is it advisable to assign two neighboring seats to two gentlemen of the same profession, as they are likely to fall into exclusive conversation and amuse no one but themselves. A little consideration of the politics, religious opinions, and tastes of his friends, will enable a judicious host to avoid many quicksands, and establish much pleasant intercourse on the occasion of a dinner-party.
The lady of the house takes the head of the table. The gentleman who led her down to dinner occupies the seat on her right hand, and the gentleman next in order of precedence, that on her left. The master of the house takes the foot of the table. The lady whom he escorted sits on his right hand, and the lady next in order of precedence on his left.
As soon as you are seated at table, remove your gloves, place your table-napkin across your knees, and remove the roll which you find probably within it to the left side of your plate.
The soup should be placed on the table first. Some old-fashioned persons still place soup and fish together; but "it is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance." Still more old-fashioned, and in still worse taste is it to ask your guests if they will take "soup or fish." They are as much separate courses as the fish and the meat; and all experienced diners take both. In any case, it is inhospitable to appear to force a choice upon a visitor, when that visitor, in all probability, will prefer to take his soup first and his fish afterwards. All well-ordered dinners begin with soup, whether in summer or winter. The lady of the house should help it, and send it round without asking each individual in turn. It is as much an understood thing as the bread beside each plate, and those who do not choose it are always at liberty to leave it untasted.
In eating soup, remember always to take it from the side of the spoon, and to make no sound in doing so.
If the servants do not go round with wine the gentlemen should help the ladies and themselves to sherry or sauterne immediately after the soup.
You should never ask for a second supply of either soup or fish; it delays the next course, and keeps the table waiting.
Never offer to "assist" your neighbors to this or that dish. The word is inexpressibly vulgar--all the more vulgar for its affectation of elegance. "Shall I send you some mutton?" or "may I help you to grouse?" is better chosen and better bred.
As a general rule, it is better not to ask your guests if they will partake of the dishes; but to send the plates round, and let them accept or decline them as they please. At very large dinners it is sometimes customary to distribute little lists of the order of the dishes at intervals along the table. It must be confessed that this gives somewhat the air of a dinner at an hotel; but it has the advantage of enabling the visitors to select their fare, and, as "forewarned is forearmed," to keep a corner, as the children say, for their favorite dishes.
As soon as you are helped, begin to eat; or, if the viands are too hot for your palate, take up your knife and fork and appear to begin. To wait for others is now not only old-fashioned, but ill-bred.
Never offer to pass on the plate to which you have been helped. This is a still more vulgar piece of politeness, and belongs to the manners of a hundred years ago. The lady of the house who sends your plate to you is the best judge of precedence at her own table.
In helping soup, fish, or any other dish, remember that to overfill a plate is as bad as to supply it too scantily. Silver fish-knives will now always be met with at the best tables; but where there are none, a piece of crust should be taken in the left hand, and the fork in the right. There is no exception to this rule in eating fish.
We presume it is scarcely necessary to remind our fair reader that she is never, under any circumstances, to convey her knife to her mouth. Peas are eaten with the fork; tarts, curry, and puddings of all kinds with the spoon.
Always help fish with a fish-slice, and tart and puddings with a spoon, or, if necessary, a spoon and fork.
Asparagus must be helped with the asparagus-tongs.
In eating asparagus, it is well to observe what others do, and act accordingly. Some very well-bred people eat it with the fingers; others cut off the heads, and convey them to the mouth upon the fork. It would be difficult to say which is the more correct.
In eating stone fruit, such as cherries, damsons, &c., the same rule had better be observed. Some put the stones out from the month into a spoon, and so convey them to the plate. Others cover the lips with the hand, drop them unseen into the palm, and so deposit them on the side of the plate. In our own opinion, the last is the better way, as it effectually conceals the return of the stones, which is certainly the point of highest importance. Of one thing we may be sure, and that is, that they must never be dropped from the mouth to the plate.
In helping sauce, always pour it on the side of the plate.
If the servants do not go round with the wine (which is by far the best custom), the gentlemen at a dinner-table should take upon themselves the office of helping those ladies who sit near them. Young ladies seldom drink more than three glasses of wine at dinner; but married ladies, professional ladies, and those accustomed to society and habits of affluence, will habitually take five or even six, whether in their own homes or at the tables of their friends.
The habit of taking wine with each other has almost wholly gone out of fashion. A gentleman may ask the lady whom he conducted down to dinner; or he may ask the lady of the house to take wine with him. But even these last remnants of the old custom are fast falling into disuse.
Unless you are a total abstainer, it is extremely uncivil to decline taking wine if you are invited to do so. In accepting, you have only to pour a little fresh wine into your glass, look at the person who invited you, bow slightly, and take a sip from the glass.
It is particularly ill-bred to empty your glass on these occasions.
Certain wines are taken with certain dishes, by old-established custom--as sherry, or sauterne, with soup and fish; hock and claret with roast meat; punch with turtle; champagne with whitebait; port with venison; port, or burgundy, with game; sparkling wines between the roast and the confectionery; Madeira with sweets; port with cheese; and for dessert, port, tokay, Madeira, sherry, and claret. Red wines should never be iced, even in summer. Claret and burgundy should always be slightly warmed; claret-cup and champagne-cup should, of course, be iced.
Instead of cooling their wines in the ice-pail, some hosts have of late years introduced clear ice upon the table, broken up in small lumps, to be put inside the glasses. This is an innovation that cannot be too strictly reprehended or too soon abolished. Melting ice can but weaken the quality and flavor of the wine. Those who desire to drink _wine and water_ can ask for iced water if they choose; but it savors too much of economy on the part of a host to insinuate the ice inside the glasses of his guests when the wine could be more effectually iced outside the bottle.
A silver knife and fork should be placed to each guest at dessert.
It is wise never to partake of any dish without knowing of what ingredients it is composed. You can always ask the servant who hands it to you, and you thereby avoid all danger of having to commit the impoliteness of leaving it, and showing that you do not approve of it.
Never speak while you have anything in your mouth.
Be careful never to taste soups or puddings till you are sure they are sufficiently cool; as, by disregarding this caution, you may be compelled to swallow what is dangerously hot, or be driven to the unpardonable alternative of returning it to your plate.
When eating or drinking, avoid every kind of audible testimony to the facts.
Finger-glasses, containing water slightly warmed and perfumed, are placed to each person at dessert. In these you may dip the tips of your fingers, wiping them afterwards on your table-napkin. If the finger-glass and doily are placed on your dessert-plate, you should immediately remove the doily to the left of your plate, and place the finger-glass upon it. By these means you leave the right for the wine-glasses.
Be careful to know the shapes of the various kinds of wine-glasses commonly in use, in order that you may never put forward one for another. High and narrow, and very broad and shallow glasses, are used for champagne; large, goblet-shaped glasses for burgundy and claret; ordinary wine-glasses for sherry and Madeira; green glasses for hock; and somewhat large, bell-shaped glasses, for port.
Port, sherry, and Madeira, are decanted. Hocks and champagnes appear in their native bottles. Claret and burgundy are handed round in a claret-jug.
The servants leave the room when the dessert is on the table.
Coffee and liqueurs should be handed round when the dessert has been about a quarter of an hour on the table. After this, the ladies generally retire.
The lady of the house should never send away her plate, or appear to have done eating, till all her guests have finished.
If you should unfortunately overturn or break anything, do not apologize for it. You can show your regret in your face, but it is not well-bred to put it into words.
To abstain from taking the last piece on the dish, or the last glass of wine in the decanter, only because it is the last, is highly ill-bred. It implies a fear on your part that the vacancy cannot be supplied, and almost conveys an affront to your host.
To those ladies who have houses and servants at command, we have one or two remarks to offer. Every housekeeper should be acquainted with the routine of a dinner and the etiquette of a dinner-table. No lady should be utterly dependent on the taste and judgment of her cook. Though she need not know how to dress a dish, she should be able to judge of it when served. The mistress of a house, in short, should be to her cook what a publisher is to his authors--that is to say, competent to form a judgment upon their works, though himself incapable of writing even a magazine article.
If you wish to give a good dinner, and do not know in what manner to set about it, you will do wisely to order it from Birch, Kuehn, or any other first-rate _restaurateur_. By these means you ensure the best cookery and a faultless _carte_.
Bear in mind that it is your duty to entertain your friends in the best manner that your means permit. This is the least you can do to recompense them for the expenditure of time and money which they incur in accepting your invitation.
"To invite a friend to dinner," says Brillat Savarin, "is to become responsible for his happiness so long as he is under your roof." Again:--"He who receives friends at his table, without having bestowed his personal supervision upon the repast placed before them, is unworthy to have friends."
A dinner, to be excellent, need not consist of a great variety of dishes; but everything should be of the best, and the cookery should be perfect. That which should be cool should be cool as ice; that which should be hot should be smoking; the attendance should be rapid and noiseless; the guests well assorted; the wines of the best quality; the host attentive and courteous; the room well lighted; and the time punctual.
Every dinner should begin with soup, be followed by fish, and include some kind of game. "The soup is to the dinner," we are told by Grisnod de la Regniere, "what the portico is to a building, or the overture to an opera."
To this aphorism we may be permitted to add that a _chasse_ of cognac or curacoa at the close of the dinner is like the epilogue at the end of a comedy.
Never reprove or give directions to your servants before guests. If a dish is not placed precisely where you would have wished it to stand, or the order of a course is reversed, let the error pass unobserved by yourself, and you may depend that it will be unnoticed by others.
If you are a mother, you will be wise never to let your children make their appearance at dessert when you entertain friends at dinner. Children are out of place on these occasions. Your guests only tolerate them through politeness; their presence interrupts the genial flow of after-dinner conversation; and you may rely upon it that, with the exception of yourself, and perhaps your husband, there is not a person at table who does not wish them in the nursery.
The duties of hostess at a dinner-party are not onerous; but they demand tact and good breeding, grace of bearing, and self-possession in no ordinary degree. She does not often carve. She has no active duties to perform; but she must neglect nothing, forget nothing, put all her guests at their ease, encourage the timid, draw out the silent, and pay every possible attention to the requirements of each and all around her. No accident must ruffle her temper. No disappointment must embarrass her. She must see her old china broken without a sigh, and her best glass shattered with a smile. In short, to quote the language of a clever contemporary, she must have "the genius of tact to perceive, and the genius of finesse to execute; ease and frankness of manner; a knowledge of the world that nothing can surprise; a calmness of temper that nothing can disturb; and a kindness of disposition that can never be exhausted."
As the number of guests at a dinner-party is regulated by the size of the table, so should the number of invitations to a ball be limited by the proportions of the ball-room. A prudent hostess will always invite a few more guests than she really desires to entertain, in the certainty that there will be some deserters when the appointed evening comes round; but she will at the same time remember that to overcrowd her room is to spoil the pleasure of those who love dancing, and that a party of this kind when too numerously attended is as great a failure as one at which too few are present.
A room which is nearly square, yet a little longer than it is broad, will be found the most favorable for a ball. It admits of two quadrille parties, or two round dances, at the same time. In a perfectly square room this arrangement is not so practicable or pleasant. A very long and narrow room is obviously of the worst shape for the purpose of dancing, and is fit only for quadrilles and country dances.
The top of the ball-room is the part nearest the orchestra. In a private room, the top is where it would be if the room were a dining-room. It is generally at the farthest point from the door. Dancers should be careful to ascertain the top of the room before taking their places, as the top couples always lead the dances.
A good floor is of the last importance in a ball-room. In a private house, nothing can be better than a smooth, well-stretched holland, with the carpet beneath.
Abundance of light and free ventilation are indispensable to the spirits and comfort of the dancers.
Good music is as necessary to the prosperity of a ball as good wine to the excellence of a dinner. No hostess should tax her friends for this part of the entertainment. It is the most injudicious economy imaginable. Ladies who would prefer to dance are tied to the pianoforte; and as few amateurs have been trained in the art of playing dance music with that strict attention to time and accent which is absolutely necessary to the comfort of the dancers, a total and general discontent is sure to result. To play dance music thoroughly well is a branch of the art which requires considerable practice. It is as different from every other kind of playing as whale fishing is from fly fishing. Those who give private balls will do well ever to bear this in mind, and to provide skilled musicians for the evening. For a small party, a piano and cornopean make a very pleasant combination. Unless where several instruments are engaged, we do not recommend the introduction of the violin: although in some respects the finest of all solo instruments, it is apt to sound thin and shrill when employed on mere inexpressive dance tunes, and played by a mere dance player.
Invitations to a ball should be issued in the name of the lady of the house, and written on small note paper of the best quality. Elegant printed forms, some of them printed in gold or silver, are to be had at every stationer's by those who prefer them. The paper may be gilt-edged, but not colored. The sealing-wax used should be of some delicate hue.
An invitation to a ball should be sent out at least ten days before the evening appointed. A fortnight, three weeks, and even a month may be allowed in the way of notice.
Not more than two or three days should be permitted to elapse before you reply to an invitation of this kind. The reply should always be addressed to the lady of the house, and should be couched in the same person as the invitation. The following are the forms generally in use:--
Mrs. Molyneux requests the honor of Captain Hamilton's company at an evening party, on Monday, March the 11th instant. _Dancing will begin at Nine o'clock_. Thursday, March 1st.
Captain Hamilton has much pleasure in accepting Mrs. Molyneux's polite invitation for Monday evening, March the 11th instant. Friday, March 2nd.
The old form of "presenting compliments" is now out of fashion.
The lady who gives a ball [A] should endeavor to secure an equal number of dancers of both sexes. Many private parties are spoiled by the preponderance of young ladies, some of whom never get partners at all, unless they dance with each other.
A room should in all cases be provided for the accommodation of the ladies. In this room there ought to be several looking-glasses; attendants to assist the fair visitors in the arrangement of their hair and dress; and some place in which the cloaks and shawls can be laid in order, and found at a moment's notice. It is well to affix tickets to the cloaks, giving a duplicate at the same time to each lady, as at the public theatres and concert-rooms. Needles and thread should also be at hand, to repair any little accident incurred in dancing.
Another room should be devoted to refreshments, and kept amply supplied with coffee, lemonade, ices, wine, and biscuits during the evening. Where this cannot be arranged, the refreshments should be handed round between the dances.
The question of supper is one which so entirely depends on the means of those who give a ball or evening party, that very little can be said upon it in a treatise of this description. Where money is no object, it is of course always preferable to have the whole supper, "with all appliances and means to boot," sent in from some first-rate house. It spares all trouble whether to the entertainers or their servants, and relieves the hostess of every anxiety. Where circumstances render such a course imprudent, we would only observe that a home-provided supper, however simple, should be good of its kind, and abundant in quantity. Dancers are generally hungry people, and feel themselves much aggrieved if the supply of sandwiches proves unequal to the demand.
Great inconvenience is often experienced through the difficulty of procuring cabs at the close of an evening party. Gentlemen who have been dancing, and are unprepared for walking, object to go home on foot, or seek vehicles for their wives and daughters. Female servants who have been in attendance upon the visitors during a whole evening ought not to be sent out. If even men-servants are kept, they may find it difficult to procure as many cabs as are necessary. The best thing that the giver of a private ball can do under these circumstances, is to engage a policeman with a lanthorn to attend on the pavement during the evening, and to give notice during the morning at a neighboring cab-stand, so as to ensure a sufficient number of vehicles at the time when they are likely to be required.
A ball generally begins about half-past nine or ten o'clock.
To attempt to dance without a knowledge of dancing is not only to make one's self ridiculous, but one's partner also. No lady has a right to place a partner in this absurd position. Never forget a ball-room engagement. To do so is to commit an unpardonable offence against good breeding.
On entering the ball-room, the visitor should at once seek the lady of the house, and pay her respects to her. Having done this, she may exchange salutations with such friends and acquaintances as may be in the room.
No lady should accept an invitation to dance from a gentleman to whom she has not been introduced. In case any gentleman should commit the error of so inviting her, she should not excuse herself on the plea of a previous engagement, or of fatigue, as to do so would imply that she did not herself attach due importance to the necessary ceremony of introduction. Her best reply would be to the effect that she would have much pleasure in accepting his invitation, if he would procure an introduction to her. This observation may be taken as applying only to public balls. At a private party the host and hostess are sufficient guarantees for the respectability of their guests; and although a gentleman would show a singular want of knowledge of the laws of society in acting as we have supposed, the lady who should reply to him as if he were merely an impertinent stranger in a public assembly-room would be implying an affront to her entertainers. The mere fact of being assembled together under the roof of a mutual friend is in itself a kind of general introduction of the guests to each other.
An introduction given for the mere purpose of enabling a lady and gentleman to go through a dance together does not constitute an acquaintanceship. The lady is at liberty to pass the gentleman in the park the next day without recognition.
It is not necessary that a lady should be acquainted with the _steps_, in order to walk gracefully and easily through a quadrille. An easy carriage and a knowledge of the figure is all that is requisite. A round dance, however, should on no account be attempted without a thorough knowledge of the steps, and some previous practice.
No person who has not a good ear for time and tune need hope to dance well.
No lady should accept refreshments from a stranger at a public ball; for she would thereby lay herself under a pecuniary obligation. For these she must rely on her father, brothers, or old friends.
Good taste forbids that a lady should dance too frequently with the same partner at either a public or private ball.
Engaged persons should be careful not to commit this conspicuous solecism.
Engagements for one dance should not be made while the present dance is yet in progress.
Never attempt to take a place in a dance which has been previously engaged.
Withdraw from a private ball-room as quietly as possible, so that your departure may not be observed by others, and cause the party to break up. If you meet the lady of the house on your way out, take your leave of her in such a manner that her other guests may not suppose you are doing so; but do not seek her out for that purpose.
Never be seen without gloves in a ball-room, though it were for only a few moments. Ladies who dance much and are particularly _soigne_ in matters relating to the toilette, take a second pair of gloves to replace the first when soiled.
A thoughtful hostess will never introduce a bad dancer to a good one, because she has no right to punish one friend in order to oblige another.
It is not customary for married persons to dance together in society. [B]
[Footnote A: It will be understood that we use the word "ball" to signify a private party, where there is dancing, as well as a public ball.]
[Footnote B: For a more detailed account of the laws and business of the ball, see the chapter entitled "The Ball-room Guide."]
XI.--STAYING AT A FRIEND'S HOUSE:--BREAKFAST, LUNCHEON, &c.
A visitor is bound by the laws of social intercourse to conform in all respects to the habits of the house. In order to do this effectually, she should inquire, or cause her personal servant to inquire, what those habits are. To keep your friend's breakfast on the table till a late hour; to delay the dinner by want of punctuality; to accept other invitations, and treat his house as if it were merely an hotel to be slept in; or to keep the family up till unwonted hours, are alike evidences of a want of good feeling and good breeding.
At breakfast and lunch absolute punctuality is not imperative; but a visitor should avoid being always the last to appear at table.
No order of precedence is observed at either breakfast or luncheon. Persons take their seats as they come in, and, having exchanged their morning salutations, begin to eat without waiting for the rest of the party.
If letters are delivered to you at breakfast or luncheon, you may read them by asking permission from the lady who presides at the urn.
Always hold yourself at the disposal of those in whose house you are visiting. If they propose to ride, drive, walk, or otherwise occupy the day, you may take it for granted that these plans are made with reference to your enjoyment. You should, therefore, receive them with cheerfulness, enter into them with alacrity, and do your best to seem pleased, and be pleased, by the efforts which your friends make to entertain you.
You should never take a book from the library to your own room without requesting permission to borrow it. When it is lent, you should take every care that it sustains no injury while in your possession, and should cover it, if necessary.
A guest should endeavor to amuse herself as much as possible, and not be continually dependent on her hosts for entertainment. She should remember that, however welcome she may be, she is not always wanted.
Those who receive "staying visitors," as they are called, should remember that the truest hospitality is that which places the visitor most at her ease, and affords her the greatest opportunity for enjoyment. They should also remember that different persons have different ideas on the subject of enjoyment, and that the surest way of making a guest happy is to find out what gives her pleasure; not to impose that upon her which is pleasure to themselves.
A visitor should avoid giving unnecessary trouble to the servants of the house, and should be liberal to them on leaving.
The signal for retiring to rest is generally given by the appearance of the servant with wine, water, and biscuits, where a late dinner-hour is observed and suppers are not the custom. This is the last refreshment of the evening, and the visitor will do well to rise and wish good-night shortly after it has been partaken of by the family.
Do not frequently repeat the name of the person with whom you are conversing. It implies either the extreme of _hauteur_ or familiarity. We have already cautioned you against the repetition of titles. Deference can always be better expressed in the voice, manner, and countenance than in any forms of words.
Never speak of absent persons by only their Christian or surnames; but always as Mr. ---- or Mrs. ----. Above all, never name anybody by the first letter of his name. Married people are sometimes guilty of this flagrant offence against taste.
No lady should permit any gentleman who is not a near relative, or very old friend of her family, to defray the cost of her entrance fee to any theatre or exhibition, or to pay for her refreshments or vehicles when she happens to be out under his protection.
If a person of greater age or higher rank than yourself desires you to step first into a carriage, or through a door, it is more polite to bow and obey than to decline.
Compliance with, and deference to, the wishes of others is the finest breeding.
When you cannot agree with the propositions advanced in general conversation, be silent. If pressed for your opinion, give it with modesty. Never defend your own views too warmly. When you find others remain unconvinced, drop the subject, or lead to some other topic.
Look at those who address you.
Never boast of your birth, your money, your grand friends, or anything that is yours. If you have traveled, do not introduce that information into your conversation at every opportunity. Any one can travel with money and leisure. The real distinction is to come home with enlarged views, improved tastes, and a mind free from prejudice.
If you present a book to a friend, do not write his or her name in it, unless requested. You have no right to presume that it will be rendered any the more valuable for that addition; and you ought not to conclude beforehand that your gift will be accepted.
Never undervalue the gift which you are yourself offering; you have no business to offer it if it is valueless. Neither say that you do not want it yourself, or that you should throw it away if it were not accepted, &c., &c. Such apologies would be insults if true, and mean nothing if false.
No compliment that bears insincerity on the face of it is a compliment at all.
Unmarried ladies may not accept presents from gentlemen who are neither related nor engaged to them. Presents made by a married lady to a gentleman can only be offered in the joint names of her husband and herself.
Married ladies may occasionally accept presents from gentlemen who visit frequently at their houses, and who desire to show their sense of the hospitality which they receive there.
There is an art and propriety in the giving of presents which it requires a natural delicacy of disposition rightly to apprehend. You must not give too rich a gift, nor too poor a gift. You must not give to one much wealthier than yourself; and you must beware how you give to one much poorer, lest you offend her pride. You must never make a present with any expectation of a return; and you must not be too eager to make a return yourself, when you accept one. A gift must not be ostentatious, but it should be worth offering. On the other hand, mere costliness does not constitute the soul of a present.
A gift should be precious for something better than its price. It may have been brought by the giver from some far or famous place; it may be unique in its workmanship; it may be valuable only from association with some great man or strange event. Autographic papers, foreign curiosities, and the like, are elegant gifts. An author may offer his book, or a painter a sketch, with grace and propriety. Offerings of flowers and game are unexceptionable, and may be made even to those whose position is superior to that of the giver.
Never refuse a present unless under very exceptional circumstances. However humble the giver, and however poor the gift, you should appreciate the goodwill and intention, and accept it with kindness and thanks. Never say "I fear I rob you," or "I am really ashamed to take it," &c., &c. Such deprecatory phrases imply that you think the bestower of the gift cannot spare or afford it.
Acknowledge the receipt of a present without delay.
Give a foreigner his name in full, as Monsieur de Vigny--never as _Monsieur_ only. In speaking of him, give him his title, if he has one. Foreign noblemen are addressed _viva voce_ as Monsieur. In speaking of a foreign nobleman before his face, say Monsieur le Comte, or Monsieur le Marquis. In his absence, say Monsieur le Comte de Vigny.
Converse with a foreigner in his own language. If not competent to do so, apologize, and beg permission to speak English.
To get in and out of a carriage gracefully is a simple but important accomplishment. If there is but one step, and you are going to take your seat facing the horses, put your left foot on the step, and enter the carriage with your right, in such a manner as to drop at once into your seat. If you are about to sit with your back to the horses, reverse the process. As you step into the carriage, be careful to keep your back towards the seat you are about to occupy, so as to avoid the awkwardness of turning when you are once in.
Members of one family should not converse together in society.
Page Last Updated February 11, 2008
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