AGNES H. MORTON
"LETTER WRITING," "QUOTATIONS," &C.
GOOD MANNERS FOR ALL PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE "WHO DWELL WITHIN THE BROAD ZONE OF THE AVERAGE"
THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
Copyright, 1892, By the Penn Publishing Company
I. ETHICS OF ETIQUETTE
II. VISITING CARDS
THE OFFICE OF THE VISITING CARD. STYLE OF CARDS. THE ENGRAVING OF VISITING CARDS.— Cards for Men; Cards for Women; Cards for Young Women; After Marriage Cards. THE USE OF THE VISITING CARD.— Calling in Person; Card-leaving in Lieu of Personal Calls; Cases in which Personal Card-leaving is Required; Cards by Messenger or by Post; Card-leaving by Proxy. SOME FURTHER ILLUSTRATIONS OF CARD USAGE.
III. CEREMONIOUS CARDS AND INVITATIONS. ETIQUETTE OF REPLIES. THE "HIGH TEA," OR MUSICALE, ETC. WEDDING INVITATIONS. DINNER INVITATIONS. LUNCHEON AND BREAKFAST INVITATIONS.
IV. THE CONDUCT OF A CHURCH WEDDING
VI. AFTERNOON RECEPTIONS AND TEAS
VII. THE DINNER SERVICE
REQUISITES FOR THE DINING-TABLE. THE FORMAL ARRANGEMENT OF THE DINNER-TABLE. THE ARRIVAL OF GUESTS, MEANWHILE. THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF DINNER. THE SERVING OF THE DINNER. MISCELLANEOUS POINTS. DINNER-TABLE TALK. INFORMAL DINNERS.
XI. EVENING PARTIES
XII. THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
XIII. "THE STRANGER THAT IS WITHIN THY GATES"
XIV. "MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME"
XV. "AS THE TWIG IS BENT"
XVI. SOCIAL YOUNG AMERICA
XVII. THE AMERICAN CHAPERONE
XVIII. GREETINGS. RECOGNITIONS. INTRODUCTIONS
XIX. BEHAVIOR IN PUBLIC THOROUGHFARES
XX. IN PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES
XXI. BEARING AND SPEECH
XXIII. A FEW POINTS ON DRESS
XXIV. PERSONAL HABITS
XXV. SOCIAL CO-OPERATION
XXVI. ON THE WING
XXVII. ETIQUETTE OF GIFTS
XXVIII. GALLANTRY AND COQUETRY
XXIX. IN CONCLUSION
As a rule, books of etiquette are written from the standpoint of the ultra-fashionable circle. They give large space to the details of behavior on occasions of extreme conventionality, and describe minutely the conduct proper on state occasions. But the majority in every town and village are people of moderate means and quiet habits of living, to whom the extreme formalities of the world of fashion will always remain something of an abstraction, and the knowledge of them is not of much practical use except to the few who are reflective enough to infer their own particular rule from any illustration of the general code.
Though it is interesting as a matter of information to know how a state dinner is conducted, still, as a matter of fact, the dinners usually given within this broad zone of "the average" are served without the assistance of butler, footman, or florist; innocent of wines and minus the more elaborate and expensive courses; and though served a la Russe the service is under the watchful supervision of the hostess herself and executed by the more or less skillful hand of a demure maid-servant. Yet, in all essential points, the laws of etiquette controlling the conduct of this simple dinner of the American democrat are the same as those observed in the ceremonious banquet of the ambitious aristocrat. The degree of formality varies; the quality of courtesy is unchanging.
Well-mannered people are those who are at all times thoughtfully observant of little proprieties Such people do not "forget their manners" when away from home. They eat at the hotel table as daintily and with as polite regard for the comfort of their nearest neighbor as though they were among critical acquaintances. They never elbow mercilessly through crowded theatre aisles, nor stand up in front of others to see the pictures of a panorama, nor allow their children to climb upon the car seats with muddy or rough-nailed shoes; nor do a score of other things that every day are to be observed in public places, the mortifying tell-tale marks of an habitual ill-manners.
The importance of constant attention to points of etiquette cannot be too earnestly emphasized. The long lecture of instruction to the little Ruggles', preparatory to their visit to the Birds, is a comical—if burlesque—illustration of the emergency that sometimes faces some people, that of suddenly preparing to "behave themselves" on a great occasion. Although the little Ruggles' were fired with ambition to do themselves credit, their crude preparation was not equal to the occasion. The best of intentions could not at once take the place of established custom. One might as well hastily wrap himself in a yard or two of uncut broadcloth expecting it to be transformed, by instant miracle, into a coat. The garment must be cut and fitted, and adjusted and worn for a space of time before it can become the well-fitting habit, worn with the easy grace of unconsciousness which marks the habitually well-mannered.
In this brief volume I have endeavored to suggest some of the fundamental laws of good behavior in every-day life. It is hoped that the conclusions reached, while not claiming to be either exhaustive or infallible, may be useful as far as they go. Where authorities differ as to forms I have stated the rule which has the most widespread sanction of good usage.
ETHICS OF ETIQUETTE
Etiquette is the term applied to correct behavior in social life, and refers to the manner of actions and the expression of a proper social spirit through the medium of established forms and ceremonies. Polite usage recognizes certain minute distinctions between the mannerly and the unmannerly ways of performing every act of life that affects the comfort and happiness of others.
By one whose experience in life has been a hardening process tending in the direction of a crystallized selfishness the rules of etiquette are regarded with contempt and alluded to with a sneer. No more disheartening problem faces the social reformer than the question how to overcome the bitter hostility to refined manners which marks the ignorant "lower classes." On the other hand, there is no more hopeful sign of progress in civilization than the gradual softening of these hard natures under the influence of social amenities. The secret of successful missionary work lies primarily, not in tracts, nor in dogmas, nor in exhortations, but in the subtle attraction of a refined, benevolent spirit, breathing its very self into the lives of those who have hitherto known only the rasping, grasping selfishness of their fellow-men, and to whom this new gospel of brotherly kindness and deference is a marvelous revelation and inspiration. The result of such missionary work is a triumph of sanctified courtesy, a triumph not unworthy the disciples of Him who "went about doing good" while teaching and exemplifying the "golden rule" upon which all rules of etiquette, however "worldly," are based.
Perhaps it may sometimes seem that there is little relation, possibly even some antagonism, between the sincerity of perfect courtesy and the proprieties of formal etiquette. At times etiquette requires us to do things that are not agreeable to our selfish impulses, and to say things that are not literally true if our secret feelings were known. But there is no instance wherein the laws of etiquette need transgress the law of sincerity when the ultimate purpose of each action is to develop and sustain social harmony.
Sometimes, for example, we invite people to visit us, and we pay visits in return, when both occasions are, on the face of it, a bore. Yet there may be good reasons why we should sacrifice any mere impulse of choice and exert ourselves to manifest a hospitable spirit toward certain people who are most uncongenial to us. Sometimes for the sake of another who is dear to us, and who, in turn, is attached to these same unattractive people, we make the third line of the triangle cheerfully, and even gladly, no matter how onerous the task, how distasteful the association forced upon us. These are not happy experiences, but they are tests of character that we are all liable to meet and which prove a most excellent discipline if they are met with discretion and patience. Moreover, in the conscientious effort to be agreeable to disagreeable people we are tacitly trying to persuade ourselves that they are not so disagreeable after all, and indeed such is our surprising discovery in many instances. Let us hope that others who exercise a similar forbearance toward ourselves are equally flattering in the conclusions which they reach.
Etiquette requires that we shall treat all people with equal courtesy, given the same conditions. It has a tendency to ignore the individuality of people. We may not slight one man simply because we do not like him, nor may we publicly exhibit extreme preference for the one whom we do like. In both cases the rebel against the restraints of social mice shouts the charge of "insincerity." Well, perhaps some of the impulses of sincerity are better held in check; they are too closely allied to the humoring of our cherished prejudices. If "tact consists in knowing what not to say," etiquette consists in knowing what not to do in the direction of manifesting our impulsive likes and dislikes.
Besides, etiquette is not so much a manifestation toward others as it is an exponent of ourselves. We are courteous to others, first of all, because such behavior only is consistent with our own claim to be well-bred.
Bearing this in mind we can behave with serenity in the presence of our most aggravating foe; his worst manifestation of himself fails to provoke us to retort in kind. We treat him politely, not because he deserves it, but because we owe it to ourselves to be gentle-mannered. Etiquette begins at self. There is no worthy deference to others that does not rest on the basis of self-respect.
"To thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
It is a superficial judgment that descries nothing but insincerity in the unvarying suavity of a well-bred manner; that regards the conventional code of behavior as merely a device for rendering social life artificial. The raison d'etre is always to be found in the established rules of etiquette; and probably the most exacting and seemingly unnecessary of formalities has its foundation in some good common sense principle not far removed in spirit from "the rule golden."
In short, manners and morals are twin shoots from the same root. The essentially well-bred man is he whose manners are the polite expression of moral principle, magnanimity, and benevolence.
THE OFFICE OF THE VISITING CARD
The personal, or visiting, card is the representative of the individual whose name it bears. It goes where he himself would be entitled to appear, and in his absence it is equivalent to his presence. It is his "double," delegated to fill all social spaces which his variously-occupied life would otherwise compel him to leave vacant.
Since the card is to be received as the equivalent of one's self, it is important that it shall be discreetly sent upon its embassy. In every case where personal cards are correctly used the owner is accredited with having performed de facto whatever the card expresses for him, be it a "call," a "regret," a "congratulation," an "apology," an "introduction," a "farewell-taking," or whatever.
The rules guiding the uses of visiting cards are based upon this idea of representation. The deputy is on duty only in the absence of his superior, so the card is usually superfluous when the owner himself is present.
A card sent at a wrong time suggests the possibility that the owner might blunder similarly in his personal appearing. The neglect to send a card at a proper time is equivalent to a personal neglect. The man who comes himself and hands you his card also is apt to have too many elbows at a dinner, too many feet at a ball. He has about him a suggestion of awkward superfluousness that is subtly consistent with his duplicate announcement of himself.
For want of the much-needed genderless singular pronoun I have been using the masculine form; but upon reflection I remember that it is the women of society who have the most diverse responsibility in the management of personal cards, their duties extending even to the care and oversight of the cards of their socially careless and negligent male relatives. But no matter who attends to the proprieties, the relation of the card to its owner is the same in all cases. If his card blunders, he gets the discredit of it. If his card always flutters gracefully into the salver at exactly the right time and place, the glory is all his own, even though his tireless wife or mother or sister has done all the hard thinking bestowed on the matter. Happy the man allied by the ties of close kindred to a gifted society woman, for lo! his cards shall never be found missing, wherever he may stray.
STYLE OF CARDS
The prevailing shape of cards for women is nearly square (about 2 1/2 x 3 inches). A fine dull-finished card-board of medium weight and stiffness is used.
A man's card is smaller, and narrower proportionately; and is of slightly heavier card-board.
The color is pearl white, not cream. Tinted cards are not admissible.
The engraving is plain script, or elaborate text; as the fashion may for the time decree.
The responsibility of furnishing the correct style of card rests with the engraver, whose business it is to know the ruling fashion of the day. Any one may have an elegant card by intrusting the choice to a first-class stationer. But it is not half the battle to secure an elegant card. An elegant use of the card distinguishes the well-informed in social usage. This distinction shows when the distribution of cards begins.
THE ENGRAVING OF VISITING CARDS
CARDS FOR MEN
If the surname is short, the full name may be engraved. If the names are long, and the space does not admit of their full extension, the initials of given names may be used. The former style is preferred, when practicable.
In the absence of any special title properly accompanying the name—as "Rev.," "Dr.," "Col.," etc.,—"Mr." is always prefixed. Good form requires this on an engraved card. If in any emergency a man writes his own name on a card he does not prefix "Mr."
What titles may properly be used on a man's visiting-card? The distinctions made in the use of titles seem arbitrary unless some reason can be discovered.
The rule should be, to omit from visiting-cards all titles that signify transient offices, or occupations not related to social life; using such titles only as indicate a rank or profession that is for life; and which has become a part of the man's identity, or which is distinctly allied to his social conditions.
To illustrate:—The rank of an officer in the army or the navy should be indicated by title on his card, his connection with the service being for life, and a part of his identity. His personal card is engraved thus: "General Schofield"—the title in full when only the surname is used; or, "Gen. Winfield Scott," "Gen. W. S. Hancock"—the title abbreviated when the given names, or their initials, are used. The first style is appropriate to the Commander-in-chief, or the senior officer; or in any case where no other officer of the same name and rank is on the roster.
Officers on the retired list, and veteran officers of the late war who rose from the volunteer ranks, retain their titles by courtesy. And very appropriately so, since the war record of many a gallant soldier is inseparable from the man himself, in the minds of his fellow-citizens. He may have retired to private life again, but his distinguished services have outlived the brief hour of action; and his hero-worshiping countrymen will always recognize him in his most salient character, "every inch a soldier." It is quite impossible to call him "Mr.," or at once to know who is meant if his card reads—for instance—"Mr. Lucius Fairchild." Nothing but the title of his well-earned rank gives an adequate idea of the man.
The official cards of political officers and ambassadors, which bear the title and office of the man—with or without his name—should be used only on official or State occasions, and during the term of office. When the incumbent "steps down and out," this card is also "relegated." His friends may continue to greet him as "Governor," but he no longer uses the title himself. In strictly social life, the personal card of the ex-Governor is like that of any other private citizen, subject to the same rules.
Similarly, professional or business cards that bear ever so slight an advertisement of occupations are not allowable for social purposes.
The three "learned" professions, theology, medicine, and law, are equally "for life." But the occupation of the lawyer is distinctly related to business matters, and not at all to social affairs. His title, or sub-title, Esquire, is properly ignored on his visiting-card, and socially he is simply "Mr. John Livingstone." On the other hand, the callings of the clergyman and the physician respectively, are closely allied to the social side of life, closely identified with the man himself. Therefore "Rev.," or "Dr." may with propriety be considered as forming an inseparable compound with the name. The title is an important identifying mark, and its omission, by the clergyman, at least, is not strictly dignified. "Office hours" are not announced on a physician's social card.
It is not good form to use merely honorary titles on visiting-cards. In most cases, a man should lay aside all pretension to special office or rank, and appear in society simply as "Mr. John Brown," to take his chances in the social world strictly on his own merits; assured that if he has any merit, other people will discover it without an ostentatious reminder of it in the shape of a pompous visiting-card. Of course this suggestion of democratic simplicity refers to the engraving of one's own card; other people address the man properly by his official or honorary title, with all due respect for the worth which the world recognizes—even though the wearer of such honors ignores his own claim to high distinction. "Blow your own trumpet, if you would hear it sound," is a sharply sarcastic bit of advice, since only hopeless mediocrity could ever profit by the injunction. Real merit needs no trumpeter. Mrs. Grant could afford to call her husband "Mr." Grant, as was her modest custom; because all the world knew that he was the General of our armies, and the President of the republic. It is some "Mayor Puff," of Boomtown, who can hardly be persuaded by the engraver from giving himself the satisfaction of incidentally announcing on his visiting-cards the result of the last borough election.
A man's address may be engraved beneath his name at the lower right corner, the street and number only if in a city, or the name of a country-seat if out of town; as, "The Leasowes." Bachelors who belong to a club may add the club address in the lower left corner; or, if they live altogether at the club, this address occupies the lower right corner. An engraved address implies some permanency of location. Those who are liable to frequent changes of address would better omit this addition to the visiting-card, writing the address in any emergency that requires it.
No messages are written on a man's card, and no penciling is allowed, except as above, to give (or correct) the address, or in the case of "P. p. c." cards, sent by post.
CARDS FOR WOMEN
The rules in regard to titles are simple and brief.
A woman's name should never appear on a visiting-card without either "Mrs." or "Miss" prefixed. The exception would be in the case of women who have regularly graduated in theology or medicine. Such are entitled, like their brothers, to prefix "Rev." or "Dr." to their names.
A married woman's card is engraved with her husband's name, with the prefix "Mrs." No matter how "titled" the husband may be, his titles do not appear on his wife's visiting-card. The wife of the President is not "Mrs. President Harrison," but "Mrs. Benjamin Harrison." She is the wife of the man, not the wife of his office or his rank.
A widow may, if she prefers, retain the card engraved during her husband's lifetime, unless by so doing she confuses her identity with that of some other "Mrs. John Brown," whose husband is still living. It is more strictly correct for a widow to resume her own given name, and to have her card engraved "Mrs. Mary Brown," or, if she chooses to indicate her own patronymic, "Mrs. Mary Dexter Brown."
An unmarried woman's card is engraved with her full name, or the initials of given names, as she prefers, but always with the prefix "Miss" (unless one of the professional titles referred to takes its place).
The address may be engraved or written in the lower right corner.
If a society woman has a particular day for receiving calls, that fact is announced in the lower left corner. If this is engraved, it is understood to be a fixed custom; if written, it may be a transient arrangement. If a weekly "at home" day is observed, the name of the day is engraved, as "Tuesdays." This means that during "calling hours" on any Tuesday the hostess will be found at home. If hours are limited, that is also indicated, as "from 4 to 6." Further limitations may be specified, as "Tuesdays in February," "Tuesdays until Lent," "Tuesdays after October," etc. Any definite idea of time may be given to meet the facts, the wording being made as terse as possible. If the regular "at home" day is Tuesday (unlimited), and the card is so engraved, any of the special limitations may be penciled in to meet special conditions. Sometimes an informal invitation is thus conveyed; as, by the addition, "Tea, 4 to 6," etc.
Other penciling.—Cards left or sent, before leaving town, have "P. p. c."—(Pour prendre conge)—penciled in the lower left corner.
A holiday, a birthday, a wedding anniversary, or other event in a friend's life may be remembered by sending a card, upon which is penciled "Greeting," "Congratulations," "Best wishes," or some similar expression. Such cards may be sent alone, or may accompany gifts.
Any brief message may be penciled on a woman's card, provided the message is sufficiently personal to partake of the nature of a social courtesy. But the card message should not be sent when courtesy requires the more explicit and respectful form of a note.
CARDS FOR YOUNG WOMEN
In strictly formal circles a young woman, during her first year in society, pays no visits alone. She accompanies her mother or chaperon. She has no separate card, but her name is engraved, or may be written, beneath that of her mother (or chaperon) on a card employed for these joint visits. After a year or so of social experience (the period being governed by the youth or maturity of the debutante, or by the exigency of making way for a younger sister to be chaperoned), the young woman becomes an identity socially, and has her separate card, subject to the general rules for women's cards, even though she continues to pay her most formal visits in company with her mother.
AFTER MARRIAGE CARDS
During the first year after marriage cards engraved thus: "Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bell Joyce," may be used by the couple in paying calls, or returning wedding civilities. Such cards are also used when jointly sending presents at any time. For general visiting, after the first year, husband and wife have separate cards.
THE USE OF THE VISITING-CARD
A too profuse use of visiting-cards indicates crudity. The trend of fashion is toward restricting the quantity of paste-board, and employing cards always when they are required, never when they are superfluous.
CALLING IN PERSON
When one calls in person the name of the caller is given verbally to the servant who opens the door. The card is not usually sent up, except by a stranger. But sometimes there is difficulty in making the servant understand the name or properly distinguish it from some other similar name. In this case to avoid mistakes the card is sent up.
If the hostess is not at home a card is left by the disappointed caller.
On the occasion of a first call a card is left on the hall table, or other place provided, even though the caller has been received by the hostess. This serves as a reminder that the acquaintance has been duly and formally begun.
On the occasion of subsequent calls, when the hostess is at home, no cards are employed, except, as before stated, to avert servants' mistakes. Such is the sensible dictum of good authorities, and one in harmony with the idea that the personal card is the representative of its owner, not his accompaniment.
This idea is more pointedly illustrated in quiet neighborhoods, where even the wealthy live simply of choice, and, like their neighbors of moderate means, employ but one domestic, or, it may be, none. In such households often the guest is met at the door by a member of the family, possibly the hostess herself. The use of a visiting-card then is plainly incongruous, not to say absurd. The visitor who is paying a "first call" under these informal conditions may find opportunity to drop a card unobtrusively into the basket, if such receptacle be within reach; but if this cannot be done without conspicuous effort the card is better ignored, and its place as a remembrancer filled by the genial impression which the visitor leaves, and of which an appreciative hostess needs no card reminder. Besides, people "living quietly" visit so little, comparatively, that it is no severe tax on the memory to recollect who has called, especially as the infrequency of calls gives ample time for each one to make an individual impression. This is not possible when a steady stream of visitors is pouring in and out of a drawing-room on a fashionable woman's "at home" day, scarcely giving the hostess opportunity to gaze upon one face before another has displaced it; so that at the end of the hour her memory recalls a composite photograph. Cards are her indispensable aids in resolving this picture into its component elements. But those who "live quietly," receiving but few calls, have no such bewildering complexity to deal with.
At the same time, these people thus quietly environed may represent the most refined and cultivated circle. They may know perfectly well what formal etiquette would demand in the matter of cards if the conditions were more formal. The omission of cards whenever their use would be forced, so far from indicating ignorance, is a proof of discrimination.
Personal calls are made in the following cases:
In returning a first visit, made in person.
After a dinner party to which one has been invited, whether the invitation was accepted or not.
After any entertainment other than a dinner it is allowable to leave or send cards instead of paying a personal call. This is a wise rule in cases where a hostess, has a long visiting list, and entertains frequently. To receive afterward personal visits from all of her guests would be practically impossible. The majority will express their acknowledgments by card, leaving it to the most intimate friends of the hostess to pay their respects in person. But among quiet people, where one "Tea" is the extent of a hostess' efforts for the season, the personal call is desirable as showing greater respect and friendliness. Among congenial friends only the plea of a busy life can make the card acknowledgment quite as graceful and acceptable as the personal visit. But if the guest is a comparative stranger, and, for any reason, there is a wish not to extend the acquaintance, the sending of a card meets all the requirements of etiquette, without committing the sender to any further intimacy.
(The alternative for personal calls, is personal card-leaving; the next point to be considered.)
CARD-LEAVING IS LIEU OF PERSONAL CALLS
When personal calls are not practicable, nor desirable, the leaving of cards is accepted as an equivalent.
A few years ago, fashion demanded that all visiting-cards expressing or acknowledging social civilities should be left in person; the alternative in emergencies being to send them by the hand of a private messenger, never through the post-office. There was good excuse for this fashion in our grandmother's day, when the post was a slow coach, or a storm-stayed postillion; but the admirable system of our postal service to-day leaves no excuse for the prejudice in favor of the private messenger; and it is not surprising that fashion has yielded to common sense in allowing that many of these cards of courtesy may, with perfect propriety, be sent by post.
The following instances illustrate the present correct usage in regard to these three ways of leaving cards.
CASES IN WHICH PERSONAL CARD-LEAVING IS REQUIRED
After a first hospitality, whether accepted or not.
Calls of condolence.
After-dinner calls by cards.
Alternative.—In such cases, when personal card-leaving is impossible, the card is sent by a private messenger, and an explanation, or apology, is sent by note.
Cards of condolence may be sent by post by friends at a distance; but not by persons residing in the near vicinity.
CARDS BY MESSENGER, OR BY POST
In all cases where personal card-leaving is not imperative, cards may be sent either by messenger or by post.
As the former is still regarded by many persons—especially elderly people—as the only strictly polite medium of transfer, it is considerate to send cards, invitations, etc., to such people by the good old-fashioned messenger, rather than to shock unnecessarily a crystallized sense of propriety by ruthless innovations. But in general it is more convenient and quite as neat and reliable to send by post; and the fashion of so doing is now fully adopted by the younger generation, and no longer subject to criticism.
In stating what may be done, in the way of escaping personal tasks, we are merely marking the bounds of propriety in one direction. On the other hand, in most cases, those who choose may make personal calls instead of those several formal card-leavings. When good form allows alternatives, each one must judge for himself which form of expression is most appropriate in any given case. Frank cordiality, amounting to informality, may be in the best taste in some oases; whereas, in other instances, only the most conventional and reserved expression of respect is either agreeable or discreet. In the latter case, let your card speak for you, and at "long range"—the longer the better.
CARD-LEAVING BY PROXY
One of the peculiar permissions of "good form" is that which allows a man to delegate the distribution of his visiting-cards to a near female relative, whenever it becomes impracticable for him to attend to the matter personally. Only the women of his own household, or a relative with whom he habitually pays visits, can thus represent a man by proxy.
In this country, where most society men—certainly the better element—are "business men," whose days are filled with earnest work and crowned with the achievements of industry, it is not to be expected that men of affairs will always be ready to respond to social invitations, or to pay all the calls of civility which fashion decrees shall be paid during the hours usually devoted to business. In theory, each man and woman in society is supposed to attend to his or her own social duties. While it is expected that a man will make all reasonable effort to do this, and that he will not altogether neglect it, still, so long as he occasionally appears personally, with a genial demeanor that proves the sincerity of his "good intentions," it will be accepted in good part if, in a large number of instances, his card, instead of himself, appears, brought by another hand. But let men remember that the "good excuse" must be obvious. Any suspicion of indifference robs the proxy card-leaving of all effect as a compliment.
In case a man is legitimately prevented, by business cares, from paying calls or leaving his cards in person, it is proper for his wife or mother or sister, or other near relative, to leave or send his card with her own. When a woman calls upon another woman she leaves her husband's card. If the hostess is married, a second card is left for the host. She may leave the cards of a son, a brother, or other relative, if such responsibility rests upon her. This formality should be observed when paying the first call of the season.
While every well-informed woman should know that it is her place to leave her husband's cards for him, it is a fact that many women, otherwise attentive to social forms, habitually neglect this particular duty. The result is that the man who has not time to pay visits becomes a social nonentity, and society, in some circles, is simply a "world of women." Why does the husband, thus neglected, get out of going to the occasional party whenever he can, and when he does allow himself to be dragged thither, why does he sulk, leaning against a chilly mantel-piece, eying his fragile coffee cup with disdain, and enacting the role of martyr generally, until he can persuade his wife to go home again? Why, indeed; but because he feels out of place. His rare and incidental appearance is a journey into a far country, of which he has little knowledge, and in which he has no interest. But when a man goes—ever so seldom—where he knows that his card habitually goes, he feels that he is on familiar ground, and he will go in person, of choice, oftener than he otherwise would.
Some men, unaccustomed to exact social observances, would ridicule the idea at first, if their wives should announce the intention of leaving their husband's cards for them. But, however much a man might demur, a lurking vanity would develop into complacent satisfaction, as he became aware of the increasing geniality of the social atmosphere about him; and the pleasing glow would take the ultimate form of gratitude to his wife.
That the permission to leave cards by proxy is often abused by selfish and indolent men is no doubt true. But the social advantage which it gives to a large class of men who are neither selfish nor indolent more than counterbalances any disadvantages, and saves to "society" a solid element that might be entirely given over to business, if it were not for judicious feminine co-operation in the distribution of visiting-cards.
"Solid" men would go "into society" far more frequently and with greater alacrity if they felt assured that the way had been smoothly paved with their own visiting-cards, well laid in place by the deft fingers of their skillful women folk, who have left no flaw in the mosaic of social proprieties.
SOME FURTHER ILLUSTRATIONS OF CARD USAGE
When a married, or elderly woman tacitly invites a man to call on her by telling him what are her "at home" days or hours, it is obligatory upon him to acknowledge the courtesy. If unable to call personally he should explain that fact and express regret, and should be particular to send a card on her next receiving day during the hours that she has mentioned. It is a special courtesy to send also a card for her husband, if he is a venerable man, or if, by reason of ill health, he is usually at home.
A woman older, or busier, or occupying some position of acknowledged distinction, may send her card, indicating her receiving days and hours, to a younger or less occupied woman. This is accepted as a call, and an invitation to return the same. If the recipient chooses she may respond in person. If she does not care to establish a calling acquaintance she may respond by sending one of her own cards on the receiving day. In case opportunity occurs for explanation some polite reason may be given for not adding to one's visiting list; but unless one has the tact to do this without snobbishness, it were better to keep silence.
Cards of introduction are simply visiting-cards upon which the owner writes, above his own name, "Introducing Mr. ——." The card is inclosed in an unsealed envelope, addressed to the person to whom the introduction is to be made, and with the words "Introducing Mr. ——," written in the lower left corner. It is a delicate matter to refuse a card or letter of introduction, but it is a far more delicate matter to take the liberty to give one. If one is in doubt about the readiness of the third party to receive the person introduced it is better to find some polite excuse for declining to be the medium of the introduction. Fortunately, if the blunder is made of introducing uncongenial people they can easily drift apart again without rudeness on the part of either.
When any one is invited to a church wedding and cannot attend it is proper to send, on the day of the marriage, a card or cards to those who issued the invitations; one card, if one parent, or a guardian, invites; if the invitation is sent in the names of both parents, a card for each, inclosed in an envelope and addressed to both. If the invited guest attends the wedding he leaves or sends cards within a week, similarly addressed. A personal call is allowable if intimacy warrants it. Those friends of the groom who are not acquainted with the bride's family should merely send cards.
When a man wishes to make the acquaintance of another man he may call and send in his card. This may or may not be accompanied with some explanatory message. If the man on whom the call is made does not wish to receive the caller he will express some polite reason for declining, or suggest another time for receiving the visitor. Usually a man will receive another man who makes polite overtures; but if the host does not wish to continue the acquaintance he will not return the call in person, but simply send his card by post. This distant rejoinder practically ends the brief acquaintance without any discourteous rebuff. It is one of the mistakes of the vulgar to be rude and gruff in order to repel an undesired acquaintance. In reality, nothing freezes out a bore more effectually than the icy calm of dignified courtesy. There are exquisitely polite ways of sending every undesirable person to limbo. The perfect self-command of the well-bred man enables him to do this to perfection, but without giving offense. Moreover, as most people worth seeking are men and women of earnest lives and crowded occupations, no one need feel personally chagrined by the failure to establish a coveted acquaintance with some gifted man or woman.
Cards of condolence are left as soon as possible after learning of the affliction. If in town, cards are left in person or sent by a messenger with a message. If out of town a card is sent by the first post. Nothing is written upon these cards.
A visiting card, with "Congratulations" written upon it, is sent to felicitate a friend upon any happy event in which friends may sympathize. Such cards are sent by messenger or by post. If a card is left in person with a kind message, nothing is written upon the card.
When a man calls and sees his hostess, but not the host, he should leave a card for the latter. If the hostess is not at home, two cards should be left.
When a man entertains formally, each man invited, whether he accepts or not, should acknowledge the courtesy within a week. He may call in person, or leave a card, or send a card by mail, or write a note of thanks, whichever he prefers. This is one of the important formalities between men, and the neglect of it argues either ignorance or insolence.
When a man calls upon a woman while she is the guest of a family with whom he is not acquainted, he inquires for both his friend and her hostess, and, as he is a stranger in the house, he sends up a card for each (instead of announcing himself verbally, as at the house of a friend). If the hostess receives him on this occasion, but extends no further hospitality, he has no claim upon her recognition beyond the hour. If the hostess subsequently offers him any hospitality during the time his friend is her guest he must call upon her; but if he defers this until after the departure of the guest, he must leave a card for the hostess without intruding a personal call, unless he has been distinctly invited to continue the acquaintance. If the man who pays the call does not wish to continue the acquaintance with his friend's hostess, after she has offered him hospitality, he must at least call and leave a card for her, with a polite inquiry for her health. This is obligatory; but nothing further is required.
A visiting card is employed in sending informal invitations to a tea or afternoon reception. The care of the hostess is used, and in addition to the name of the regular receiving day the special date, as "January 19," and some other specific words, as "Tea, 4 to 6," are written in the lower left corner. (In this informal written message numbers are indicate by figures, where formal invitations require the words to be written in full.) This card is accepted by the recipients as equivalent to a call paid by the sender, and they respond in person at the time indicated, leaving cards with the servant as they enter, and also, on their departure, leaving the cards of such male members of their respective families as have been invited, but are unable to attend. As few men can leave business at this hour these occasions become prominent illustrations of "proxy" card-leaving. If any one invited cannot be present (and in case of a man no female relative is there authorized to represent him) a card must be sent by post or messenger on the receiving day.
After a change of residence, or after a prolonged absence from home, cards of the entire family are sent to notify an acquaintance of their re-establishment and of their readiness to resume the social interchange.
It is customary for the younger society men to pay a round of calls after returning from the usual summer "outing," or to leave cards in lieu of a call.
When leaving for a long absence, or when parting from transient, but agreeable acquaintances, as companion tourists, etc., when time does not admit of farewell calls, visiting-cards are sent by post with "P. p. c." (Pour prendre conge—to take leave) written upon them. This is equivalent to saying, "If ever we meet again we will meet on the footing of friends, not strangers." It is a pleasant way of showing appreciation of the pleasure afforded by another's society, and the formality should not be neglected by one who would be esteemed thoughtfully polite and kind.
Only people who cling to old-fashioned customs still fold over the right side of a visiting-card to show that the card was left in person, and also fold over the left side to show that the call was intended for all the women of the household. This custom is practically obsolete. Another fashion that has had its day was that of leaving a separate card for each of the women of the household. Now, one card answers the purpose, the inquiry accompanying it indicates whether the call was intended for one or for all of the family. In case a guest of the household is included in the call a separate card is left for her.
CEREMONIOUS CARDS AND INVITATIONS. ETIQUETTE OF REPLIESs
THE "HIGH TEA," MUSICALE, ETC.
These occasions are more formal than the ordinary afternoon tea. Special cards are engraved, and if any special entertainment is provided, the fact may be indicated by the words, "Music," or "Miscellaneous Program" (when readings and music are interspersed). Or, the announcement may be omitted, and the program furnish a pleasant surprise for the guests. But when "Dancing" is the recreation provided for, it must appear on the card, so that guests may prepare for it. The card for a "musicale" or similar occasion, is simply engraved:
MRS. JOHN LIVINGSTONE At Home Wednesday, October fifth, from four to seven o'clock. Dancing. 119 Park Ave.
FOR A PARTY OR RECEPTION GIVEN IN HONOR OF ANOTHER, the invitations may be engraved with a blank space left for the name of the invited guest; or, the form may be filled out, and the name of the guest appear on the envelope only. It may read:
MR. AND MRS. DEXTER HOLMES request the pleasure of .........................'s company on Tuesday evening June sixth, at nine o'clock, to meet Rev. John D. Loring. R.S.V.P. 29 Rice St.
or, the wording may be "request the pleasure of your company," etc. The former has the rhetorical advantage of uniformity, the third person being used throughout; and it also indicates a personal recognition of each guest; but the latter form presents a neater appearance.
As to the use of "R.S.V.P.," or any of the phrases now preferred by many, as, "Please reply;" "The favor of an answer is requested," etc., this may be said: some authorities claim that all invitations should be answered; and that therefore these requests for a reply are a reflection on the good manners of the people invited. But such is not the popular understanding. All invitations that are plainly limited to a certain number of guests, as dinners, card parties, and certain exclusive receptions, should be answered at once, in order that vacancies may be filled. Whether the invitation is accompanied with the request for a reply or not, all thoughtful people will recognize the propriety. But on many occasions where numbers are not necessarily limited, only the hostess can say whether the reply is urgent or not; since it is a question of her personal convenience, the limits of house-room, or some other individual matter. As no one class of entertainments is given always under the same conditions, it is well to allow the hostess to choose whether she will add or omit the request for a reply to her invitations.
Meanwhile, the punctilious may reply to every invitation of a strictly social character, and even if the host or hostess did not expect it, such reply can give no offense; whereas, the neglect of a necessary reply might prove very awkward and annoying.
A private ball is only a more elaborate form of a dancing party. The invitations are phrased in the same language, but the hour is usually not earlier than 9.30 P. M.
The same form of invitation can be adapted to almost any reception, party or other social entertainment, with such variations in the phrasing as suit the circumstances.
It may be said that it is unnecessary to give explicit directions about invitations, inasmuch as the engraver is the one ultimately responsible for the accuracy of these things. But on occasions when small numbers are invited—but undiminished formality is observed—the formal invitation is requisite, yet the engraved card is a needless expense. In such cases one may have cards written in due form. But, for written invitations of this formal character, it is imperative that the paper shall be of superior quality, and the penmanship neat, and thoroughly stylish in effect.
CARDS OF INVITATION TO A WEDDING are issued in the name of the bride's parents, or, if she is an orphan, by her guardian, or some relative or friend who gives her the wedding. All expenses are paid by the bride's family.
It is not etiquette for the groom to bear any of the expense, except the fee to the clergy man; nor to furnish anything for his own wedding, except the ring and the bouquet for the bride, presents for the brides-maids and best man, and some little token for the ushers.
The hostess (who invites) requests the groom to furnish her with two lists of names—one list of those of his friends whom he wishes to be present to witness the ceremony, and another list of those whom he would like to see at the reception also. These, with similar lists of the bride's friends, make up the number of guests to be invited. Wedding invitations are usually sent out two weeks before the day fixed for the ceremony. The invitation is engraved and printed upon a note sheet, in handsome plain script, the lines broken to give distinction to the several ideas, and the wording made as terse as possible. The formula is nearly unvarying:
MR. AND MRS. GEORGE LATHROP request the pleasure of your company (or the honor of your presence) at the marriage of their daughter, MARY ADELAIDE, to MR. WILLIAM HENRY BISHOP, at St. Philip's Church, On Wednesday evening, October twelfth, at seven o'clock.
If the marriage is to be solemnized at home the date follows the names in succession, and the place of residence is given last. The invitation may vary, "the wedding reception of their daughter," etc. Or, accompanying the church wedding invitation may be a square card bearing the lines: "Reception from half-past seven until nine o'clock," with place of residence on the line below.
Also, to avoid a crowd at the church, a smaller card is sometimes sent with the invitations bearing, for example, the words: "Please present this card at St. Philip's Church, Wednesday evening, October twelfth, at seven o'clock." This card of admission is also given to dependents—the domestics of the family or such persons as may be entitled to the kind notice, but who are not, strictly speaking, invited guests. The number of such cards should never be greater than the comfortable capacity of the church, lest their original purpose be defeated.
In case the ceremony is private the immediate family and chosen friends are invited verbally. It is then optional whether or not a formal announcement shall be made to a wider circle of friends by sending out engraved cards the day after the ceremony. These are, like the invitations, printed on note sheets, and are phrased briefly, as
MR. AND MRS. GEORGE LATHROP announce the marriage of their daughter, MARY ADELAIDE, to MR. WILLIAM HENRY BISHOP, Wednesday evening, October twelfth, St. Philip's Church.
"At Home" cards sometimes accompany this announcement, or they may be sent out later by the young couple themselves, if a long wedding trip intervenes.
The private wedding and after announcement is often the most suitable—in fact, the only appropriate method to adopt when a bride is comparatively alone in the world, or has no near relatives to take charge of wedding formalities. In such a case the announcement is worded: "Mr. William Henry Bishop and Miss Mary Adelaide Lathrop, married, Wednesday, October twelfth, 149 Willow St." If no other place is given this is understood to be the place where to address cards of congratulation. If the young couple are to receive later, in a new home, that address, with date of the "at home," is also given, thus, "At home, after November fifteenth, 1129 Lake St." If the change of residence is to another town, the name of the town is also given.
For the proper style of "displaying" the phrases of an invitation or announcement one may apply to a first-class stationer. Plain script and the finest white paper are always correct. Any show of ornamentation is out of taste.
When the circle of acquaintances is very large and invitations must be limited to a certain number, the announcement cards may be sent to others.
A wedding invitation, unless it includes a wedding breakfast, limited in number, requires no reply. Cards sent afterward are all that is necessary. These cards, and whatever congratulations are sent, are addressed to the ones in whose name the invitation or announcement was sent out—usually the parents of the bride. A congratulatory note to the bride is always in order among intimate friends, but this bears no relation to a response to the invitation.
WEDDING ANNIVERSARY INVITATIONS are simply, "Mr. and Mrs. George Lathrop, at home," etc., with date and residence. They are printed on cards or note sheets, preferably the latter, and the character of the occasion is indicated by a monogram at the top of the page, in the centre, flanked by the two annual dates, as "1837 [monogram] 1887." If for a golden wedding this heading is lettered in gold; if for a silver wedding, in silver, the invitation being, as usual, printed in black ink. It is good form to engrave "No presents" in the lower left corner, if such is the wish of "the bride and groom."
DINNER CARDS OF INVITATION may have this form:
MR. AND MRS. GEORGE LATHROP request the pleasure Of .................................... company at dinner on Thursday, ................ at seven o'clock. 95 Willow Street.
The above form may be engraved for perennial use by a host or hostess who frequently give dinners, and always on the same day of the week. Blanks are left to be filled in with the name of the invited guest and the exact date. Or for a single occasion the form may be without any blank spaces, and the phrasing read, "Request the pleasure of your company."
A dinner given in honor of some distinguished guest requires an invitation card specially engraved. This form is most deferential:
To meet GENERAL LA FAYETTE, MR. AND MRS. GEORGE LATHROP request the honor of ........................ company at dinner on Wednesday, May tenth, at eight o'clock. 95 Willow Street.
If the honored guest is esteemed on the score of personal friendship rather than public distinction his name will be given last, instead of first, on the card, the phrasing of the invitation remaining the same.
Invitations to dinner should be answered at once, and no one should accept if there is the least doubt about being able to be present. Only the most serious detentions suddenly arising will excuse a failure to keep a dinner engagement once made. If such contingency does occur at the eleventh hour an explanation and apology should be sent to the host or hostess without delay in order to give opportunity for securing "the fourteenth man."
FOR A FORMAL LUNCHEON OR BREAKFAST the invitation cards are similar in form to dinner cards. But since the manner of serving, the numbers invited, etc., are not so definitely fixed it is proper to add R.S.V.P. on cards that especially call for a reply in the judgment of the hostess. Otherwise many people with vague ideas of the "informality" of these occasions might omit to send replies.
THE CONDUCT OF A CHURCH WEDDING
The sexton should be duly informed what preparations to make at the church; the awning at the entrance, the ribbon barrier across the aisle, the floral decorations, etc., by whomever arranged and executed are under the supervision of this functionary, who is responsible for having everything in order.
It is no longer good form for a bride to be late at her own wedding. Now, when the invitation says "seven o'clock" it is expected that the ceremony will begin at that hour precisely, accidents aside.
The organist is engaged by some one interested in making the arrangements, and is supposed to be in his place for a half-hour or so before the hour of the ceremony; and while the guests are assembling he discourses music appropriate to the occasion—a rambling, meditative pot-pourri of sweet and pathetic sentimental songs being a popular and effective choice. In churches having a vested choir it is possible to secure very beautiful effects in the musical adjuncts, the processional adding greatly to the grace and dignity of the ceremonial.
The sexton, or his deputy, stands at the door, salver in hand, to receive the admission cards as people enter the church. The invited guests are met at the foot of the centre aisle by the ushers. An usher offers his arm to a lady and conducts her to a seat, the friends of the bride being seated at the left and the friends of the groom at the right of the middle aisle. When, as often happens, the groom is "from a distance," and few of his far-away acquaintances can be present, this separation of guests is not observed.
At the appointed hour, the clergyman appears at the altar rail; the groom, accompanied by his best man, emerges from the vestry, and takes his place at the right, awaiting the arrival of the bride. At this instant, the organist stops dreaming, wakes up, and starts boldly into the wedding march, as the bridal party move up the aisle, in the following order: First, the ushers, in pairs, then the bridesmaids, also in pairs. Sometimes a little "maid of honor," carrying flowers, precedes the bride. The bride, leaning on the arm of her father, comes last. The ushers and the bridesmaids separate as they reach the altar, and go to the right and to the left. At the altar the groom receives the bride from her father's hand. The latter steps back a few paces, but remains near enough to "give away the bride." When this point in the ceremony has been passed, the father quietly joins the mother in the front pew.
If the processional has been the "Lohengrin" march, it is thought by many to be very effective for the organist, all through the ceremony, to continue on the swell organ a dreamy sotto voce improvisation, in the course of which a varied reiteration of "Faithful and true" serves as an affecting expression of the sentiment of the hour. The most enjoyable tears are shed by the emotional under this inspiration. But other people prefer the solemn stillness, broken only by the voice of the priest and the responses of the high contracting parties. It is a matter of taste and feeling; and those interested are at liberty to indulge either fancy.
The bride stands at the left of the groom during the ceremony; and also takes his left arm at the close. When the ceremony is concluded, the officiating clergyman congratulates the couple, but does not kiss the bride as formerly. In the Episcopal Church, and any other churches where it is the duty of the contracting parties to sign the parish register, the clergyman, the newly wedded pair, and their witnesses, now retire to the sacristry for this purpose. On their return to the chancel, the organ peals forth the Wedding March; the bride and groom lead the bridal party in returning down the aisle, the bridesmaids and ushers following in due order, and after them the nearest relatives; and all, entering their carriages, are driven at once to the home of the bride's parents.
After a morning, or "high noon" wedding, a "breakfast" is usually served. If the ceremony has been a nuptial mass, in the Catholic or High Church ritual, the bridal party have—presumably—observed the fast, before the mass; therefore, the "breakfast" is really a breakfast. However, the term is popularly used by non-ritualists, when the ceremony bears no relation to the mass; and regardless of the fact that the real breakfast has been taken at the usual hour.
A bride may wear full dress at any hour, day or evening; but decollete dress is not good form at a church wedding, nor is it allowed in the Catholic church. White is the preferred color for a young bride. A widow-bride, on the contrary, should choose some other color; and she wears neither veil nor orange-blossoms.
Details of fashion vary so constantly that specific directions cannot be given with any assumption of final authority. A fashionable modiste should be consulted in the emergency.
The dress worn by a guest at a wedding may be as rich as desired, but should not have a bridal appearance. Sometimes a recent bride wears her own wedding gown at a friend's wedding; but it is in better taste not to do so, nor in any other way to invite comparisons. The bride should be permitted to be the conspicuous figure at her own wedding, and while her friends may pay her the compliment of wearing handsome toilettes on that occasion, still, other women should dress just a little less elaborately, rather than commit the solecism of "out-dressing the bride." Fortunately, one may show all delicate consideration in this matter, and yet be beautifully and becomingly dressed.
THE ETHICS OF HOSPITALITY
Hospitality shares what it has. It does not attempt to give what it has not. The finest hospitality is that which welcomes you to the fireside and permits you to look upon the picture of a home-life so little disturbed by your coming that you are at once made to feel yourself a part of the little symphony—the rare bit of color just needed to complete the harmonic combination. With this flattering fact impressed upon your glowing memory you will hardly be able to recall the material adjuncts of the occasion. It is a sign of a gross nature to measure hospitality by the loaves and fishes, forgetting the miracle that goes with them. And it is equally a mistake for a host to be afraid to offer humble entertainment when richer offers are beyond his means. To a refined perception "the life is more than the meat," and the personality of the host, not the condition of his larder, decides whether or not it is an honor to be his guest. Delightful though it be to be able to afford one's guest a rare and beautiful entertainment, one must dismiss the idea that a graceful and acceptable hospitality depends on material things. Sir Launfal, sharing his crust with the beggar at the gate, was still Sir Launfal. The impoverished hostess may preside at her frugal board with the spirit and the manner of a queen, whereas the coarse-fibred vulgarian vainly heaps his platters with choicest game and rarest fruit, the while he serves the banquet like the churl that he is.
Whatever your entertainment, rich or poor, remember, first of all, to give yourself to your guest; then, if he is appreciative, he will not criticise your simple dinner, nor grumble at the flavor of your wine. One of the wits of the day has gravely reported that at a banquet in the Athens of America, "the menu consisted of two baked beans and readings from Emerson." Despite its grotesque exaggeration, the mot contains the kernel of a dignified truth: that material things are of secondary importance on all social occasions worthy of the name.
The most expensive entertainment given by any one should be merely an incidental illustration of his already recognized financial means. It should never be so beyond his usual ability as to arouse among his neighbors the wonder, how he could afford it? When people who are known to have only a moderate income give "spreads" disproportionate to their daily mode of living, the thoughtful observer instinctively questions their taste and good sense. Usually such ostentatious display brings more or less derision on the ones who are foolish enough to spend more money to make their neighbors stare for a day than they use to make themselves comfortable for a year. No matter how elaborate the entertainment the guests should not be allowed to suspect that their host has exhausted his resources, or that he might not be able to do this same thing at any time that he chose.
As already suggested, the character of the entertainment in a private house should never be such as to involve a total departure from the habitual customs of the household. It is granted that provision must be made on a grander scale for larger numbers; the quantity of things will necessarily be augmented, and mere bulk wears a certain air of the imposing, and when to this is added the vital element—the magnetism of a brilliant company—the participant will seem to breathe a rarified atmosphere, and to an extent to be exalted above the level of everyday life. Yet that level should not be lost to sight nor cease to be the basis of measurement. The quality of elegant serving and mannerly eating should be just what is every day observed at the family dinner of the same household. The guest should get a correct idea of the home atmosphere of the house, even though it be slightly congealed by the formality and reserve which the presence of strangers naturally inspires.
When people assume to entertain socially they should not give a false showing of themselves or of their means. The proudest spirit acknowledges the limitations of poverty with dignified truthfulness; it is the moral coward who seeks to hide these limitations by a greater display than his circumstances warrant. And he reaps as he sows. His "entertainments" fill an idle hour for the class of visitors who gravitate mainly to the supper-room, while the giver of the feast, under the tension of this social effort, suffers a weariness of the spirit as well as of the flesh, and gives a sigh of relief when the door closes upon the last guest, and the pitiful farce is declared "over." We wonder "Why do they thus spend their strength for that which profiteth not?" Surely, few things in the course of a misspent life are less profitable than such over-strained efforts at showy entertainment. The "banquet hall deserted" presents on the following day a grim reminder of the petty economies that for weeks hence must secretly be contrived in order to restore the balance of an overdrawn bank account. The folly of living beyond one's means may have this extenuating feature, that it is often an error due to generous, though indiscreet impulse, or to inexperience; but the folly of spending money lavishly on a few ostentatious "spreads" that are "beyond one's means" has no redeeming points. The deception seldom long deceives. It is a social blunder, the effect of which is to depreciate rather than to enhance the social importance of the family thus entertaining.
It will be understood that this refers to cases when the motive of extravagance is to gratify vanity. It does not mean to imply that the Christmas dinner, or the birthday party, or the wedding anniversary may not be a time when all the energies of a poor and usually frugal household may be concentrated to prepare for one occasion of feasting and rejoicing. The Cratchetts may have their roast goose; even the Micawbers may be indulged in their occasional banquet. And the carefully planned birthday party may be all the more gratefully appreciated by the honored one when it is known that every choice provision for the occasion represents some thoughtful contriving and some self-sacrifice prompted by affection. Such occasions are "red-letter days" in the homes of people of limited means; and pathos is never more delicately suggested than when the poor man forgets his poverty in the wealth of a home-gathering and a feast of remembrance. "Let not a stranger intermeddle with their joy."
In the two cases the financial conditions may seem to be parallel, but in essential spirit there is no resemblance. What is done from sentiment and affection is above commercial measurement. What is done for the sake of ostentation is, by its own act, made a legitimate object of popular criticism.
Another point of good taste in entertaining is that one who is wealthier than others of his social circle should not conspicuously outshine his neighbors by giving them a kind and degree of entertainment which will make their return of civilities seem poor and mean by comparison. Unless the rich man is so greatly beyond others in the scale of wealth that comparisons cease to be odious, it is more considerate for him to keep within the degree of expense and display possible to the average of his associates.
There is still another reason why the very rich should be chary of giving magnificent entertainments.
The dazzled community, gazing spell-bound upon the spectacle of a flower-decked mansion, brilliant with colored lights and echoing to bewildering strains of music, is apt to forget, in this aggregation of the energies of florist, caterer, and band-master, the one man who is supposed to be, but is not, the author of this occasion.
George (descanting on the glories of the "crush of the season")—"The music—the champagne—the——"
Montague—"Ah! yes; and how did 'mine host' bear himself?"
George—"The host! (ruefully). B'Jove! I forgot to hunt him up!"
Unfortunately, mine host had allowed his surroundings to belittle himself. Many a brilliant "social event" might properly be chronicled under the head-line: "Total Eclipse of the Host!" so insignificant does the man become when he carries his standards of social entertaining in his pocket-book instead of in his brains.
However, one need not be very rich in order to make this same mistake. It is made every time that social life ceases to be social, and becomes merely a contest of rival displays. This folly is observed in small villages quite as often as in the metropolis. In contrast, how refreshing it is to cross the threshold of a refined and cultivated home, and find awaiting us a cordial welcome and a genuine hospitality, so true to its author's personality and environment that whether water or wine be offered we know not, grateful that our host gives us his best, whatever it is, and, best of all, gives himself.
AFTERNOON RECEPTIONS AND TEAS
Fashions in entertaining have changed within the memory of "those now living." Once, large parties were given, hundreds of invitations were issued, a house was crowded from veranda to attic, and the occasion was one of the few notable social events of the season. Then came the fashion—partly for exclusiveness, partly for novelty, largely for convenience—of giving during the season several small parties or receptions, which in the aggregate might include all of one's visiting list. The disadvantage of this plan, as an exclusive method of solving the problem of social entertaining, was that slights were liable to occur, and were sure to be bitterly felt and resented. Yet, what was a hostess to do? To go back to the old-time crowded party, superadding the increased luxury of modern entertaining, would be to re-establish an inconvenient and expensive fashion. But some way must be devised to bring one's friends together, in larger numbers, and with more prompt and direct expression of hospitality and good fellowship than could be conveyed by the slow and stately process of a series of dinners.
"Necessity is the mother of invention." Someone, probably having reflected upon the easy social character of the English five o'clock tea, solved the problem for the American hostess by instituting the afternoon reception, which, somewhere between the hours of four and six, summons a host of friends to cross one's threshold and meet informally, chatting for a while over a sociable cup of tea, each group giving place to others, none crowding, all at ease, every one the recipient of a gracious welcome from the hostess, who by the hospitality thus offered has tacitly placed each guest on her visiting list for the season.
The afternoon reception is much the same affair, whether it be a tea merely, or a musicale, or a literary occasion. If merely a reception, conversation and the desultory chat of society, the drifting about and the greeting of friends, and incidentally the cup of tea and its dainty accessories, fill a half-hour or so very pleasantly; and though inconsequent so far as any plan or motive is concerned, such meeting and mingling may have all the desired effect as a promoter of social pleasure and harmony.
When a musicale is given at these afternoon hours, usually it is in honor of some brilliant amateur, a pianist or singer, or, if the program is miscellaneous, a gifted elocutionist. Or, it is an occasion when some lion of the professional stage has been captured, either socially or professionally, and the hostess gives to her less fortunate friends an opportunity to see and hear at close range the celebrity usually visible only through opera-glasses and beyond the foot-lights. Or, some lady of well-known musical taste may be the patron of some newly-arrived professor of music; and she invites her musical friends to meet him, with the benevolent purpose to give him a profitable introduction to a promising class of patrons.
When under any of these or similar conditions a formal program is arranged, the hour is fixed, and is stated on the invitation card; as "Music at 4." The guests should be prompt at the hour, so that no interruption or confusion shall occur. When the reception is merely social, guests come and leave at any time within the hours specified on the invitation card; as, "Tea, 4 to 6."
When admitted to the house each one hands a card to the servant in waiting. The guest repairs to the dressing-room to lay aside outer wraps, and attend to any detail of the toilet which wind or accident may have disarranged. Upon entering the parlor each guest is greeted by the hostess, who stands near the door, surrounded by her aids. If her husband's name appears on the card of invitation, he, also, is in the receiving group, contributing, in so far as a man humbly may, to the success of the occasion. The aids, besides assisting in receiving the guests, are attentive to entertaining; and they see that no shy person is overlooked in the invitation to partake of refreshments.
The tea is served in the same room when the guests are few, and in another room of the suite if the reception is large. Usually a single table is set, with coffee or chocolate at one end, and tea at the other, served by young ladies, friends of the hostess. To be invited to preside at the coffee urn, or to manipulate the swinging tea-kettle, is accounted a high compliment.
Besides the tea, the refreshments, which are served from the table, may be very thin slices of bread and butter, or wafers, or similar trifles; but if the occasion approaches the nature of a formal reception, a more elaborate preparation is made; bouillon, oysters, salads, ice-cream and cakes, delicate rolls and bon-bons may be offered. The gradations by which the frugal tea passes into the superabundant supper are not easily classified. Each hostess will judge how much or how little prominence to give to these provisions for the inner man. Usually, however, very simple refreshments, daintily served, are all that is desirable, as the guests go home to their dinners.
If a guest is a comparative stranger to others present, she is at liberty to address any one in a chatty, agreeable way, without introduction. Also, if any one observes another guest who seems to be alone and neglected, it is a graceful and kind overture to open a pleasant conversation.
One should not linger too long at an afternoon tea. Three-quarters of an hour is a happy medium.
Allied to the afternoon tea are various phases of informal daytime entertaining. For example, there is the "shower" for a bride-elect ("linen," "culinary," or what you will). A friend of the bride-to-be invites a coterie of girl friends to meet the guest of honor, giving each girl time to provide some beautiful or useful gift, the presentations to be made with amusing ceremonies.
The "thimble bee," a favorite diversion of the quiet matronly set, each one bringing her own bit of needlework to while away an hour or so in pleasant conversation. One of the number may read aloud, with pauses for comment at will. The thimble bee is a modern version of the good old-fashioned "spend the afternoon and take tea." Both the shower and the thimble bee may be given in the forenoon, if preferred.
THE DINNER SERVICE
REQUISITES FOR THE DINING-TABLE
Table-Linen, etc.—Table-cloths of white damask, double or single, as fine as the owner's purse admits, are used for the dinner-table, with large square white napkins to correspond.
The table should first be covered with a mat of double-faced cotton flannel wide enough to fall six inches below the edge of the table, all around. This under mat greatly improves the appearance of the table-cloth, which can be laid much more smoothly over this soft foundation. Besides, the mat protects the table from too close contact with hot dishes. Small table mats for the purpose of protecting the cloth are not fashionable at present, though many careful housekeepers retain them rather than risk injury to fine table linen.
Carving-cloths are used when carving is done at the table, but are not needed when dinner is served a la Russe.
Napkin rings are discarded by many who hold that a napkin should be used but once, and must be re-laundried before reappearing on the table.
Practically, such a fastidious use of table linen would exhaust most linen supplies, and overcrowd the laundry. The neat use of a napkin renders this extreme nicety superfluous as a rule of home dining, Care should certainly be taken to remove all soiled table linen. Nothing is more disgusting than a dirty napkin, but the snowy linen that comes spotless through one using may, with propriety, be retained in the ring to be used several times. This, of course, refers to every-day dining at home. On formal occasions no napkin rings appear on the table; the napkins are always fresh, and used for that time only. At the close of the dinner they are left carelessly on the table; not rolled or folded in any orderly shape.
Small fringed napkins of different colors are used with a dessert of fruits. Fancy doylies of fine linen embroidered with silk are sometimes brought in with the finger-bowls; but these are not for utility, the dinner napkin doing service, while the embroidered "fancy" adds a dainty bit of effect to the table decoration.
China, Glassware, Cutlery, Silverware, etc.—Chinaware for the dinner service should be of good quality. Fashions in china decoration are not fixed; the fancy of the hour is constantly changing, but a matched set is eminently proper for the dinner table, leaving the "harlequin" china for luncheons and teas. In the latter style the aim is to have no two pieces alike in decoration, or at least, to permit an unlimited variety; a fashion that is very convenient when large quantities of dishes are liable to be needed. But for a dinner served in orderly sequence, the orderly correspondence of a handsome "set" seems more in keeping. But even with this, the harlequin idea may come in with the dessert; fruit plates, ice-cream sets, after-dinner coffees, etc., may display any number of fantasies in shape and coloring.
Artistic glassware is a very handsome feature of table furnishing. Carafes and goblets for water are always needed at dinner; wine glasses, possibly; and the serving of fruits and bon-bons gives opportunity to display the most brilliant cut-glass, or its comparatively inexpensive substitutes, which are scarcely less pretty in effect. Fine glass is infinitely more elegant than common plated-ware, and though more liable to breakage is less trouble to keep in order.
The best dinner-knife is of steel, of good quality, with handle of ivory, ebony, or silver. Silver-plated knives are much used; they do not discolor so readily as steel, and are easily kept polished. They answer the purpose for luncheon, but they rarely have edge enough to be really serviceable at dinner or breakfast.
Many people who own solid silverware store it away in bank vaults and use its fac simile in quadruple plate, and thus escape the constant dread of a possible burglar. For the sense of security that it gives, one may value the finest quality of plated ware, but it should be inconspicuous in style and not too profuse in quantity, since its utility, rather than its commercial value, should be suggested. Any ostentation in the use of plated ware is vulgar. But one may take a pride and satisfaction in the possession of solid silver. Every ambitious housekeeper will devise ways of securing, little by little, if not all at once, a neat collection of solid spoons and forks. The simplest table takes on dignity when graced with these "sterling" accompaniments. The fancy for collecting "souvenir" spoons, one at a time, suggests a way to secure a valuable lot of spoons without feeling the burden of the expense. Yet, on the other hand, these spoons are much more expensive than equally good plain silver, the extra price being paid for the "idea;" but the expenditure is worth while to those who value historical associations. One may find in the silver-basket salient reminders of all important epochs in our national life, a sort of primer of United States history, to say nothing of the innumerable "souvenirs" of Europe. Its subtle testimony to the intelligent taste of its owner gives the souvenir collection its chief "touch of elegance."
The towering "castor," once the central glory of the dinner table, is out of style. The condiments are left on the sideboard, and handed from there in case any dish requires them, the supposition being that, as a rule, the several dishes are properly seasoned before they are served. Individual salt-cellars are placed on the table, and may be accompanied with salt spoons; if these are omitted, it is understood that the salt-cellar is emptied and refilled each time that it is used. On the family dinner-table the condiment line is not so severely drawn; vinegar in cut-glass cruets, mustard in Satsuma pots, and individual "peppers"—in silver, china, or glass, and of quaint designs—are convenient and allowable.
A table covered with white damask, overlaid with sparkling china and cut-glass, and reflecting the white light of polished silver, is a pretty but lifeless sight. Add one magic touch—the centre-piece of flowers—and the crystallized beauty wakes to organic life.
In arranging the modern dinner-table, when the service is to be a la Russe, floral decorations are almost indispensable. Without something attractive for the eye to rest upon, the desert stretch of linen looks like the white ghost of famine mocking the feast.
The shape of the table, the available space, and the nature of the occasion decide the quantity and distribution of the flowers. It is a matter in which wide latitude is given to individual taste and ingenuity, original designs and odd conceits being always in order, subject only to the law of appropriateness.
For a square or extra wide table a large centre-piece, either round or oblong, is usually chosen, with endless varieties in its component arrangement. It may be low and flat, like a floral mat, in the middle of the table, or it may be a lofty epergne, or an inter-lacing of delicate vine-wreathed arches, or a single basket of feathery maidenhair fern—in fact, anything that is pretty and which the inspiration of the moment may suggest. In early autumn, in country homes or in suburban villas, nothing is more effective than masses of golden-rod and purple asters, gathered by the hostess or her guests during their afternoon drive, and all the more satisfactory because of the pleasure taken in their impromptu arrangement. Wild flowers should be neatly trimmed and symmetrically grouped to avoid a ragged or weedy appearance.
Fortunately, even quite elaborate floral decorations need not be expensive. Nature has bestowed some of her choicest touches upon the lilies of the field, and an artistic eye discerns their possibilities. At the same time, art in floriculture has produced marvels, and those who can afford it may revel in mammoth roses and rare orchids, lilies of the valley in November, and red clovers in January, if it please them to pay the florist's bill for the same.
For narrow "extension" tables, slender vases ranged at intervals may be the most convenient disposition of the flowers; or, if the ends of the table are not occupied, a broad, low basket may stand at each end, with a tall, slender vase in the middle of the table.
On choice occasions a handsome centre-piece may be, for example, a large bowl of La France roses, with small bundles of the same (groups of three are pretty), tied with ribbon of the same hue, laid by each plate. Any other single flower may be disposed similarly, or variety may rule, and no two floral "favors" be alike, in which case it is a delicate compliment to give to each guest a flower known to be a favorite, or one that seems especially appropriate—a lily to Lilian, a daisy to Marguerite, etc. These little marks of thoughtfulness never fail to be appreciated, and add much to the grace of entertaining.
An elaborate centre-piece may stand upon a rich velvet mat, or on a flat mirror provided for the purpose. The latter is a clever idea for a centre-piece of pond-lilies or other aquatic plants, simulating a miniature lake, its edges fringed with moss or ferns.
THE FORMAL ARRANGEMENT OF THE DINNER-TABLE
The mat is first adjusted upon the table, and the table-cloth smoothly and evenly laid over it. The cloth should fall about half-way to the floor all around.
The floral accessories are then put in place; and also the fruits and bon-bons, which may be commingled with the flowers in working out a decorative design, or they may be placed, in ornamental dishes, at the four corners of a wide table, to balance the flowers in the centre; or, they may be arranged along the middle of a long table. For fruit, silver-gilt baskets, or epergnes of glass are especially pretty. The fruit may later constitute a part of the dessert, or may be merely ornamental in its office. Carafes containing iced water are placed here and there on the table, at convenient points.