[frontispiece]THE MODERN DINNER-TABLE.
MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES BY MRS. JOHN SHERWOOD M.E.W.
AUTHOR OF "A TRANSPLANTED ROSE"
"Manners are the shadows of great virtues."—Whateley
"Solid Fashion is funded politeness."—Emerson
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION, REVISED BY THE AUTHOR
JUN 11 1887
PG TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:
This etiquette manual was probably originally a series of columns in a newspaper or a magazine like Harper's, as the chapters on weddings in the different seasons refer to how the fashions have changed since the last one—by the original copyright, 1884, though the book version appeared in 1887. Notable features among the usual: how to dance the German, or Cotillon; remarks and four chapters on English, French, or others in contrast to American customs, making it a guide to European manners; proper behavior for the single woman past girlhood; appropriate costumes for many occasions; three chapters on staff and servants.
There is no country where there are so many people asking what is "proper to do," or, indeed, where there are so many genuinely anxious to do the proper thing, as in the vast conglomerate which we call the United States of America. The newness of our country is perpetually renewed by the sudden making of fortunes, and by the absence of a hereditary, reigning set. There is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions.
But a "reigning set," whether it depend upon hereditary right or adventitious wealth, if it be possessed of a desire to lead and a disposition to hospitality, becomes for a period the dictator of fashion to a large number of lookers-on. The travelling world, living far from great centres, goes to Newport, Saratoga, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and gazes on what is called the latest American fashion. This, though exploited by what we may call for the sake of distinction the "newer set," is influenced and shaped in some degree by people of native refinement and taste, and that wide experience which is gained by travel and association with broad and cultivated minds. They counteract the tendency to vulgarity, which is the great danger of a newly launched society, so that our social condition improves, rather than retrogrades, with every decade.
There may be many social purists who will disagree with us in this statement. Men and women educated in the creeds of the Old World, with the good blood of a long ancestry of quiet ladies and gentlemen, find modern American society, particularly in New York and at Newport, fast, furious, and vulgar. There are, of course, excesses committed everywhere in the name of fashion; but we cannot see that they are peculiar to America. We can only answer that the creed of fashion is one of perpetual change. There is a Council of Trent, we may say, every five years, perhaps even every two years, in our new and changeful country, and we learn that, follow as we may either the grand old etiquette of England or the more gay and shifting social code of France, we still must make an original etiquette of our own. Our political system alone, where the lowest may rise to the highest preferment, upsets in a measure all that the Old World insists upon in matters of precedence and formality. Certain immutable principles remain common to all elegant people who assume to gather society about them, and who wish to enter its portals; the absent-minded scholar from his library should not ignore them, the fresh young farmer from the countryside feels and recognizes their importance. If we are to live together in unity we must make society a pleasant thing, we must obey certain formal rules, and these rules must conform to the fashion of the period.
And it is in no way derogatory to a new country like our own if on some minor points of etiquette we presume to differ from the older world. We must fit our garments to the climate, our manners to our fortunes and to our daily lives. There are, however, faults and inelegancies of which foreigners accuse us which we may do well to consider. One of these is the greater freedom allowed in the manners of our young women a freedom which, as our New World fills up with people of foreign birth, cannot but lead to social disturbances. Other national faults, which English writers and critics kindly point out, are our bumptiousness, our spread- eagleism, and our too great familiarity and lack of dignity, etc.
Instead of growing angry over these criticisms, perhaps we might as well look into the matter dispassionately, and see if we cannot turn the advice in some degree to our advantage. We can, however, decide for ourselves on certain points of etiquette which we borrow from nobody; they are a part of our great nation, of our republican institutions, and of that continental hospitality which gives a home to the Russian, the German, the Frenchman, the Irishman, man, and the "heathen Chinee." A somewhat wide and elastic code, as boundless as the prairies, can alone meet the needs of these different citizens. The old traditions of stately manners, so common to the Washington and Jefferson days, have almost died out here, as similar manners have died out all over the world. The war of 1861 swept away what little was left of that once important American fact—a grandfather. We began all over again; and now there comes up from this newer world a flood of questions: How shall we manage all this? How shall we use a fork? When wear a dress-coat? How and when and on whom shall we leave our cards? How long and for whom shall we wear mourning? What is the etiquette of a wedding? How shall we give a dinner-party? The young housekeeper of Kansas writes as to the manners she shall teach to her children; the miner's wife, having become rich, asks how she shall arrange her house, call on her neighbors, write her letters? Many an anxious girl writes as to the propriety of "driving out with a gentleman," etc. In fact, there is one great universal question, What is the etiquette of good society?
Not a few people have tried to answer these questions, and have broken down in the attempt. Many have made valuable manuals, as far as they went; but writers on etiquette commonly fail, for one or two different reasons. Many attempt to write who know nothing of good society by experience, and their books are full of ludicrous errors. Others have had the disadvantage of knowing too much, of ignoring the beginning of things, of supposing that the person who reads will take much for granted. For a person who has an intuitive knowledge of etiquette, who has been brought up from his mother's knee in the best society, has always known what to do, how to dress, to whom to bow, to write in the simplest way about etiquette would be impossible; he would never know how little the reader, to whose edification he was addressing himself, knew of the matter.
If, however, an anxious inquirer should write and ask if "mashed potato must be eaten with a knife or a fork," or if "napkins and finger bowls can be used at breakfast," those questions he can answer.
It is with an effort to answer thousands of these questions, written in good faith to Harper's Bazar, that this book is undertaken. The simplicity, the directness, and the evident desire "to improve," which characterize these anonymous letters, are all much to be commended. Many people have found themselves suddenly conquerors of material wealth, the most successful colonists in the world, the heirs of a great inheritance, the builders of a new empire. There is a true refinement manifested in their questions. Not only do men and women like to behave properly themselves, but all desire to know what is the best school of manners, that they may educate their children therein. Such minds are the best conservators of law and order. It is not a communistic spirit that asks, "How can I do this thing in a better way?" It is that wise and liberal conservatism which includes reverence for law, respect for age, belief in religion, and a desire for a refined society. A book on etiquette, however patiently considered and honestly written, must have many shortcomings, and contain disputed testimony. All we can do is endeavor to mention those fashions and customs which we believe to be the best, remembering always, as we have said, that the great law of change goes on forever, that our stately grandfathers had fashions which we should now consider gross and unbecoming, while we have customs, particularly of speech, which would have shocked them. This law of change is not only one which time modifies, but with us the South, the North, the East, and the West differ as to certain points of etiquette. All, however, agree in saying that there is a good society in America whose mandates are supreme. All feel that the well-bred man or woman is a "recognized institution." Everybody laughed at the mistakes of Daisy Miller, and saw wherein she and her mother were wrong. Independent American girls may still choose to travel without a chaperon, but they must be prepared to fight a well-founded prejudice if they do. There is a recognition of the necessity of good manners, and a profound conviction, let us hope, that a graceful manner is the outcropping of a well-regulated mind and of a good heart.
CHAPTER ... PAGE I. Women as Leaders ... 13 II. Optional Civilities ... 29 III. Good and Bad Society ... 36 IV. On Introducing People ... 44 V. Visiting ... 58 VI. Invitations, Acceptances, and Regrets ... 66 VII. Cards of Compliment, Courtesy, Condolence, and Congratulation ... 74 VIII. The Etiquette of Weddings ... 82 IX. Who Pays for the Cards ... 94 X. Weddings after Easter ... 102 XI. Summer Weddings ... 110 XII Autumn Weddings ... 117 XIII. Before the Wedding and After ... 125 XIV. Gold, Silver, and Tin Weddings ... 133 XV. The Etiquette of Balls ... 142 XVI. Fashionable Dancing ... 150 XVII. Letters and Letter Writing ... 159 XVIII. Costly thy Habit ... 167 XlX. Dressing for Driving ... 174 XX. Incongruities of Dress ... 181 XXI. Etiquette of Mourning ... 188 XXII. Mourning and Funeral Usages ... 200 XXIII. Letters of Condolence ... 207 XXIV. Chaperons and Their Duties ... 214 XXV. Etiquette for Elderly Girls ... 223 XXVI. New Year's Calls ... 230 XXVII. Matin,es And Soir,es ... 239 XXVIII. Afternoon Tea ... 247 XXIX. Caudle And Christening Cups and Ceremonies ... 255 XXX. Modern Dinner Table ... 261 XXXI. Laying the Dinner-table ... 269 XXXII. Favors and Bonbonni,res ... 277 XXXIII. Dinner Table Novelites ... 285 XXXIV. Summer Dinners ... 292 XXXV. Luncheons, Informal and Social ... 300 XXXVI. Supper Parties ... 307 XXXVII. Simple Dinners ... 314 XXXVIII. The Small Talk of Society ... 320 XXXIX. Garden Parties ... 328 XL. Silver Weddings and Other Wedding Anniversaries ... 335 XLI. Spring And Summer Entertainments ... 343 XLII. Floral Tributes and Decorations ... 353 XLIII. The Fork and the Spoon ... 359 XLIV. Napkins and Table-cloths ... 364 XLV. Servants, their Dress and Duties ... 371 XLVI. House with One Servant ... 380 XLVII. House with Two Servants ... 886 XLVIII. House with Many Servants ... 394 XLIX. Manners: A Study For The Awkward and the Shy ... 401 L. How To Treat A Guest ... 408 LI. Lady And Gentleman ... 415 LIL The Manners of the Past ... 424 LIII. The Manners of the Optimist ... 484 LIV. The Manners of the Sympathetic ... 441 LV. Certain Questions Answered ... 450 LVI. English Table Manners and Social Usages. ... 457 LVII. American And English Etiquette Contrasted ... 465 LVIII. How To Treat English People ... 473 LIX. A Foreign Table D'H"te, and Casino Life Abroad ... 480
MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES.
CHAPTER I. WOMEN AS LEADERS.
Nothing strikes the foreigner so much (since the days of De Tocqueville, the first to mention it) as the prominent position of woman in the best society of America. She has almost no position in the political world. She is not a leader, an intrigante in politics, as she is in France. We have no Madame de Stael, no Princess Belgioso, here to make and unmake our Presidents; but women do all the social work, which in Europe is done not only by women, but by young bachelors and old ones, statesmen, princes, ambassadors, and attaches. Officials are connected with every court whose business it is to visit, write and answer invitations, leave cards, call, and perform all the multifarious duties of the social world.
In America, the lady of the house does all this. Her men are all in business or in pleasure, her sons are at work or off yachting. They cannot spend time to make their dinner calls—"Mamma, please leave my cards" is the legend written on their banners.
Thus to women, as the conductors of social politics, is committed the card—that pasteboard protocol, whose laws are well defined in every land but our own.
Now, in ten different books on etiquette which we have consulted we find ten different opinions upon the subject of first calls, as between two women. We cannot, therefore, presume to decide where so many doctors disagree, but give the commonly received opinions as expressed by the customs of New York society.
When should a lady call first upon a new and a desirable acquaintance? Not hastily. She should have met the new and desirable acquaintance, should have been properly introduced, should feel sure that her acquaintance is desired. The oldest resident, the one most prominent in fashion, should call first; but, if there is no such distinction, two women need not forever stand at bay each waiting for the other to call. A very admirable and polite expedient has been: substituted for a first call in the sending out of cards, for several days in the month, by a lady who wishes to begin her social life, we will say, in a new city. These may or may not be accompanied by the card of some well-known friend. If these cards bring the desired visits or the cards of the desired guests, the beginner may feel that she has started on her society career with no loss of self respect. Those who do not respond are generally in a minority. Too much haste in making new acquaintances, however—"pushing," as it is called-cannot be too much deprecated.
First calls should be returned within a week. If a lady is invited to any entertainment by a new acquaintance, whether the invitation come through a friend or not, she should immediately leave cards, and send either a regret or an acceptance. To lose time in this matter is a great rudeness. Whether she attend the entertainment or not, she should call after it within a week. Then, having done all that is polite, and having shown herself a woman of good-breeding, she can keep up the acquaintance or not as she pleases. Sometimes there are reasons why a lady does not wish to keep up the acquaintance, but she must not, for her own sake, be oblivious to the politeness extended. Some very rude people in New York have sent back invitations, or failed to recognize the first attempt at civility, saying, "We don't know the people." This is not the way to discourage unpleasant familiarity. In New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and in the large cities of the West, and generally in the country: towns, residents call first upon new-comers; but in Washington this custom is reversed, and the new-comer calls first upon the resident. Every one—officials of the highest down to the lowest grade returns these cards. The visitor generally finds himself invited to the receptions of the President and his Cabinet, etc. This arrangement is so convenient that it is a thousand pities it does not go into operation all over the country, particularly in those large cities where the resident cannot know if her dearest friend be in town unless informed in some such way of the fact.
This does not, as might be supposed, expose society to the intrusion of unwelcome visitors. Tact, which is the only guide through the mazes of society, will enable a woman to avoid anything like an unwelcome intimacy or a doubtful acquaintance, even if such a person should "call first."
Now the question comes up, and here doctors disagree: When may a lady call by proxy, or when may she send her card, or when must she call in person?
After a dinner-party a guest must call in person and inquire if the hostess is at home. For other entertainments it is allowed, in New York, that the lady call by proxy, or that she simply send her card. In sending to inquire for a person's health, cards may be sent by a servant, with a kindly message.
No first visit should, however, be returned by card only; this would be considered a slight, unless followed by an invitation. The size of New York, the great distances, the busy life of a woman of charities, large family, and immense circle of acquaintances may render a personal visit almost impossible. She may be considered to have done her duty if she in her turn asks her new acquaintance to call on her on a specified day, if she is not herself able to call.
Bachelors should leave cards (if they ever leave any) on the master and mistress of the house, and, in America, upon the young ladies. A gentleman does not turn down the corners of his card—indeed, that fashion has become almost obsolete, except, perhaps, where a lady wishes it distinctly understood that she has called in person. The plainer the card the better. A small, thin card for a gentleman, not glazed, with his name in small script and his address well engraved in the corner, is in good taste. A lady's card should be larger, but not glazed or ornamented in any way. It is a rule with sticklers for good-breeding that after any entertainment a gentleman should leave his card in person, although, as we have said, he often commits it to some feminine agency.
No gentleman should call on a lady unless she asks him to do so, or unless he brings a letter of introduction, or unless he is taken by a lady who is sufficiently intimate to invite him to call. A lady should say to a gentleman, if she wishes him to call, "I hope that we shall see you," or, "I am at home on Monday," or something of that sort. If he receives an invitation to dinner or to a ball from a stranger, he is bound to send an immediate answer, call the very next day, leave his card, and then to call after the entertainment.
This, at least, is foreign etiquette, and we cannot do better than import it. This rule holds good for the entertainments of bachelors, who should leave their cards on each other after an entertainment, unless the intimacy is so great that no card- leaving is expected.
When a lady returns to town, after an absence in Europe or in the country, it is strict etiquette that she should leave cards on all her acquaintances and friends if she expects to entertain or to lead a gay, social winter; but as distances in our great cities are formidable, as all ladies do not keep a carriage, as most ladies have a great deal else to do besides making visits, this long and troublesome process is sometimes simplified by giving a tea or a series of teas, which enables the lady, by staying at home on one evening of a week, or two or three afternoons of a month, to send out her cards to that effect, and to thus show her friends that she at least remembers them. As society and card-leaving thus become rapidly complicated, a lady should have a visiting-book, into which her list is carefully copied, with spaces for days and future engagements.
A servant must be taught to receive the cards at the door, remember messages, and recollect for whom they are left, as it is not proper in calling upon Mrs. Brown at a private house to write her name on your card. At a crowded hotel this may be allowed, but it is not etiquette in visiting at private houses. In returning visits, observe the exact etiquette of the person who has left the first card. A call must not be returned with a card only, or a card by a call. If a person send you a card by post, return a card by post; if a personal visit is made, return it by a personal visit; if your acquaintance leave cards only, without inquiring if you are at home, return the same courtesy. If she has left the cards of the gentlemen of her family, return those of the gentlemen of your family.
A young lady's card should almost always be accompanied by that of her mother or her chaperon. It is well, on her entrance into society, that the name of the young lady be engraved on her mother's card. After she has been out a year, she may leave her own card only. Here American etiquette begins to differ from English etiquette. In London, on the other hand, no young lady leaves her card: if she is motherless, her name is engraved beneath the name of her father, and the card of her chaperon is left with both until she becomes a maiden lady of somewhat mature if uncertain age.
It is rare now to see the names of both husband and wife engraved on one card, as "Mr. and Mrs. Brown." The lady has her own card, "Mrs. Octavius Brown," or with the addition, "The Misses Brown." Her husband has his separate card; each of the sons has his own card. No titles are used on visiting-cards in America, save military, naval, or judicial ones; and, indeed, many of our most distinguished judges have had cards printed simply with the name, without prefix or affix. "Mr. Webster," "Mr. Winthrop," "Henry Clay" are well-known instances of simplicity. But a woman must always use the prefix "Mrs." or "Miss." A gentleman may or may not use the prefix "Mr.," as he pleases, but women must treat themselves with more respect. No card is less proper than one which is boldly engraved "Gertrude F. Brown;" it should be "Miss Gertrude F. Brown."
A married lady always bears her husband's name, during his life, on her card. Some discussion is now going on as to whether she should continue to call herself "Mrs. Octavius Brown" or "Mrs. Mary Brown" after his death. The burden of opinion is in favor of the latter—particularly as a son may bear his father's name, so there will be two Mrs. Octavius Browns. No lady wishes to be known as "old Mrs. Octavius Brown," and as we do not use the convenient title of Dowager, we may as well take the alternative of the Christian name. We cannot say "Mrs. Octavius Brown, Jr.," if the husband has ceased to be a junior. Many married ladies hesitate to discard the name by which they have always been known. Perhaps the simple "Mrs. Brown" is the best, after all. No lady should leave cards upon an unmarried gentleman, except in the case of his having given entertainments at which ladies were present. Then the lady of the house should drive to his door with the cards of herself and family, allowing the footman to leave them.
The young ladies' names, in such a case as this, should be engraven on their mother's card.
"We have no leisure class," as Henry James says in his brilliant "International Episode;" but still young men should try to make time to call on those who entertain them, showing by some sort of personal attention their gratitude for the politeness shown them. American young men are, as a rule, very remiss about this matter of calling on the hostess whose hospitality they accept.
A gentleman should not call on a young lady without asking for her mother or her chaperon. Nor should he leave cards for her alone, but always leave one for her mother.
Ladies can, and often do, write informal invitations on the visiting-card. To teas, readings, and small parties, may be added the day of reception. It is convenient and proper to send these cards by post. Everything can be sent by post now, except an invitation to dinner, and that must always be sent by private hand, and an answer must be immediately returned in the same formal manner.
After balls, amateur concerts, theatrical parties, garden-parties, or "at homes," cards should be left by all invited guests within a week after the invitation, particularly if the invited guest has been obliged to decline. These cards may be left without inquiring for the hostess, if time presses; but it is more polite to inquire for the hostess, even if it is not her day. If it is her reception day, it would be rude not to inquire, enter, and pay a personal visit. After a dinner, one must inquire for the hostess and pay a personal visit. It is necessary to mention this fact, because so many ladies have got into the habit (having large acquaintances) of leaving or sending cards in by a footman, without inquiring for the hostess (who is generally not at home), that there has grown up a confusion, which leads to offence being taken where none is meant.
It is not considered necessary to leave cards after a tea. A lady leaves her cards as she enters the hall, pays her visit, and the etiquette of a visiting acquaintance is thus established for a year. She should, however, give a tea herself, asking all her entertainers.
If a lady has been invited to a tea or other entertainment through a friend without having known her hostess, she is bound to call soon; but if the invitation is not followed up by a return card or another invitation, she must understand that the acquaintance is at an end. She may, however, invite her new friend, within a reasonable time, to some entertainment at her own house, and if that is accepted, the acquaintance goes on. It is soon ascertained by a young woman who begins life in a new city whether her new friends intend to be friendly or the reverse. A resident of a town or village can call, with propriety, on any new-comer. The newcomer must return this call; but, if she does not desire a further acquaintance, this can be the end of it. The time of calling must in every town be settled by the habits of the place; after two o'clock and before six is, however, generally safe.
In England they have a pleasant fashion of calling to inquire for invalids or afflicted friends, and of pencilling the words "kind inquiries." It has not obtained that popularity in America which it deserves, and it would be well to introduce it. If a lady call on a person who is a stranger to her, and if she has difficulty in impressing her name on the servant, she sends up her card, while she waits to see if the lady will receive her. But she must never on any occasion hand her own card to her hostess. If she enters the parlor and finds her hostess there, she must introduce herself by pronouncing her own name distinctly. If she is acquainted with the lady, she simply gives her name to the servant, and does not send up her card.
Wedding-cards have great prominence in America, but we ignore those elaborate funeral-cards and christening-cards, and printed cards with announcements of engagements, and many other cards fashionable abroad. With us the cards of the bride and her parents, and sometimes of the fianc,, are sent to all friends before the wedding, and those of the invitation to the wedding to a few only, it may be, or to all, as the family desire. After the marriage, the cards of the married pair, with their address, are sent to all whose acquaintance is desired.
Husbands and wives rarely call together in America, although there is no law against their doing so. It is unusual because, as we have said, we have no "leisure class." Gentlemen are privileged to call on Sunday, after church, and on Sunday evenings. A mother and daughter should call together, or, if the mother is an invalid, the daughter can call, leaving her mother's card.
"Not at home" is a proper formula, if ladies are not receiving; nor does it involve a falsehood. It merely means that the lady is not at home to company. The servant should also add, "Mrs. Brown receives on Tuesdays," if the lady has a day. Were not ladies able to deny themselves to callers there would be no time in crowded cities for any sort of work, or repose, or leisure for self- improvement. For, with the many idle people who seek to rid themselves of the pain and penalty of their own vapid society by calling and making somebody else entertain them, with the wandering book-agents and beggars, or with even the overflow of society, a lady would find her existence muddled away by the poorest and most abject of occupations—that of receiving a number of inconsiderate, and perhaps impertinent, wasters of time.
It is well for all house-keepers to devote one day in the week to the reception of visitors—the morning to tradespeople and those who may wish to see her on business, and the afternoon to those who call socially. It saves her time and simplifies matters.
Nothing is more vulgar than that a caller should ask the servant where his mistress is, when she went out, when she will be in, how soon she will be down, etc. All that a well-bred servant should say to such questions is, "I do not know, madam." A mistress should inform her servant after breakfast what he is to say to all comers. It is very offensive to a visitor to be let in, and then be told that she cannot see the lady of the house. She feels personally insulted, and as if, had she been some other person, the lady of the house would perhaps have seen her.
If a servant, evidently ignorant and uncertain of his mistress and her wishes, says, "I will see if Mrs. Brown will see you," and ushers you into the parlor, it is only proper to go in and wait. But it is always well to say, "If Mrs. Brown is going out, is dressing, or is otherwise engaged, ask her not to trouble herself to come down." Mrs. Brown will be very much obliged to you. In calling on a friend who is staying with people with whom you are not acquainted, always leave a card for the lady of the house. The lack of this attention is severely felt by new people who may entertain a fashionable woman as their guest—one who receives many calls from those who do not know her hostess. It is never proper to call on a guest without asking for the hostess.
Again, if the hostess be a very fashionable woman, and the visitor decidedly not so, it is equally vulgar to make one's friend who may be a guest in the house a sort of entering wedge for an acquaintance; a card should be left, but unaccompanied by any request to see the lady of the house. This every lady will at once understand. A lady who has a guest staying with her who receives really calls should always try to place a parlor at her disposal where she can see her friends alone, unless she be a very young person, to whom the chaperonage of the hostess is indispensable.
If the lady of the house is in the drawing-room when the visitor arrives to call on her guest, she is, of course, introduced and says a few words; and if she is not in the room, the guest should inquire of the visitor if the lady of the house will see him or her, thus giving her a chance to accept or decline.
In calling on the sons or the daughters of the house, every visitor should leave a card for the father and mother. If ladies are at home, cards should be left for the gentlemen of the family.
In Europe a young man is not allowed to ask for the young ladies of the house in formal parlance, nor is he allowed to leave a card on them—socially in Europe the "jeune fille" has no existence. He calls on the mother or chaperon; the young lady may be sent for, but he must not inquire for her first. Even if she is a young lady at the head of a house, he is not allowed to call upon her without some preliminaries; some amiable female friend must manage to bring them together.
In America the other extreme has led to a very vicious system of etiquette, by which young ladies are recognized as altogether leaders of society, receiving the guests and pushing their mothers into the background. It would amaze a large number of ambitious young ladies to be told that it was not proper that young men should call on them and be received by them alone. But the solution would seem to be that the mother or chaperon should advance to her proper place in this country, and while taking care of her daughter, appearing with her in public, and receiving visits with her, still permit that good-natured and well-intended social intercourse between young men and women which is so seldom abused, and which has led to so many happy marriages. It is one of the points yet debatable how much liberty should be allowed young ladies. Certainly, however, we do not wish to hold our young girls up to the scorn and ridicule of the novelist or the foreign critic by ignoring what has been a recognized tenet of good manners since society was formed. The fact that the chaperon is a necessary institution, and that to married ladies and to elderly ladies should be paid all due respect, is a subject of which we shall treat later. No young lady who is visiting in a strange city or country town should ever receive the visits of gentlemen without asking her hostess and her daughters to come down and be introduced to them; nor should she ever invite such persons to call without asking her hostess if it would be agreeable. To receive an ordinary acquaintance at any hour, even that of the afternoon reception, without her hostess would be very bad manners. We fear the practice is too common, however. How much worse to receive a lover, or a gentleman who may aspire to the honor of becoming one, at unusual hours, without saying anything to the lady of the house! Too many young American girls are in the habit of doing so: making of their friend's house a convenience by which an acquaintance with a young man may be carried on—a young man too, perhaps, who has been forbidden her own home.
A bride receives her callers after she has settled down in her married home just as any lady does. There is no particular etiquette observed. She sends out cards for two or three reception days, and her friends and new acquaintances call or send cards on these days. She must not, however, call on her friends until they have called upon her.
As many of these callers—friends, perhaps, of the bridegroom—are unknown to the bride, it is well to have a servant announce the names; and they should also leave their cards in the hall that she may be able to know where to return the visits.
What has so far been said will serve to give a general idea of the card and its uses, and of the duties which it imposes upon different members of society. Farther on in this volume we will take up, in much more particular fashion, the matters only alluded to in this opening chapter.
We may say that cards have changed less in the history of etiquette and fashion than anything else. They, the shifting pasteboards, are in style about what they were fifty—nay, a hundred—years ago.
The plain, unglazed card with fine engraved script cannot be improved upon. The passing fashion for engraved autographs, for old English, for German text, all these fashions have had but a brief hour. Nothing is in worse taste than for an American to put a coat-of-arms on his card. It only serves to make him ridiculous.
A lady should send up her card by a servant, but not deliver it to the lady of the house; a card is yourself, therefore if you meet a lady, she does not want two of you. If you wish to leave your address, leave a card on the hall table. One does right in leaving a card on the hall table at a reception, and one need not call again. An invitation to one's house cancels all indebtedness. If a card is left on a lady's reception, she should make the next call, although many busy society women now never make calls, except when they receive invitations to afternoon teas or receptions.
When a gentleman calls on ladies who are at home, if he knows them well he does not send up a card; the servant announces his name. If he does not know them well, he does send up a card. One card is sufficient, but he can inquire for them all. In leaving cards it is not necessary to leave seven or eight, but it is customary to leave two—one for the lady of the house, the other for the rest of the family or the stranger who is within their gates. If a gentleman wishes particularly to call on any one member, he says so to the servant, as "Take my card up to Miss Jones," and he adds, "I should like to see all the ladies if they are at home." The trouble in answering this question is that authorities differ. We give the latest London and New York fashion, so far as we know, and also what we believe to be the common-sense view. A gentleman can ask first for the lady of the house, then for any other member of the family, but he need never leave more than two cards. He must in this, as in all etiquette, exercise common-sense. No one can define all the ten thousand little points.
CHAPTER II. OPTIONAL CIVILITIES.
There are many optional civilities in life which add very much to its charm if observed, but which cannot be called indispensable. To those which are harmless and graceful we shall give a cursory glance, and to those which are doubtful and perhaps harmful we shall also briefly allude, leaving it to the common-sense of the reader as to whether he will hereafter observe in his own manners these so-called optional civilities.
In France, when a gentleman takes off his hat in a windy street or in an exposed passage-way, and holds it in his hand while talking to a lady, she always says, "Couvrez vous" (I beg of you not to stand uncovered). A kind-hearted woman says this to a boatman, a coachman, a man of low degree, who always takes off his hat when a lady speaks to him. Now in our country, unfortunately, the cabmen have such bad manners that a lady seldom has the opportunity of this optional civility, for, unlike a similar class in Europe, those who serve you for your money in America often throw in a good deal of incivility with the service, and no book of etiquette is more needed than one which should teach shop-girls and shop-men the beauty and advantages of a respectful manner. If men who drive carriages and street cabs would learn the most advantageous way of making money, they would learn to touch their hats to a lady when she speaks to them or gives an order. It is always done in the Old World, and this respectful air adds infinitely to the pleasures of foreign travel.
In all foreign hotels the landlords enforce such respect on the part of the waiters to the guests of the hotel that if two complaints are made of incivility, the man or woman complained of is immediately dismissed. In a livery-stable, if the hired coachman is complained of for an uncivil answer, or even a silence which is construed as incivility, he is immediately discharged. On the lake of Como, if a lady steps down to a wharf to hire a boat, every boatman takes off his cap until she has finished speaking, and remains uncovered until she asks him to put on his hat.
Now optional civilities, such as saying to one's inferior, "Do not stand without your hat," to one's equal, "Do not rise, I beg of you," "Do not come out in the rain to put me in my carriage," naturally occur to the kind-hearted, but they may be cultivated. It used to be enumerated among the uses of foreign travel that a man went away a bear and came home a gentleman. It is not natural to the Anglo-Saxon race to be overpolite. They have no petits soins. A husband in France moves out an easy-chair for his wife, and sets a footstool for every lady. He hands her the morning paper, he brings a shawl if there is danger of a draught, he kisses her hand when he comes in, and he tries to make himself agreeable to her in the matter of these little optional civilities. It has the most charming effect upon all domestic life, and we find a curious allusion to the politeness observed by French sons towards their mothers and fathers in one of Moliere's comedies, where a prodigal son observes to his father, who comes to denounce him, "Pray, sir, take a chair," says Prodigal; "you could scold me so much more at your ease if you were seated."
If this was a piece of optional civility which had in it a bit of sarcasm, we can readily see that civility lends great strength to satire, and take a hint from it in our treatment of rude people. A lady once entering a crowded shop, where the women behind the counter were singularly inattentive and rude even for America, remarked to one young woman who was lounging on the counter, and who did not show any particular desire to serve her,
"My dear, you make me a convert to the Saturday-afternoon early-closing rule, and to the plan for providing seats for saleswomen, for I see that fatigue has impaired your usefulness to your employer."
The lounger started to her feet with flashing eyes. "I am as strong as you are," said she, very indignantly.
"Then save yourself a report at the desk by showing me some lace," said the lady, in a soft voice, with a smile.
She was served after this with alacrity. In America we are all workers; we have no privileged class; we are earning money in various servitudes, called variously law, medicine, divinity, literature, art, mercantile business, or as clerks, servants, seamstresses, and nurses, and we owe it to our work to do it not only honestly but pleasantly. It is absolutely necessary to success in the last-mentioned profession that a woman have a pleasant manner, and it is a part of the instruction of the training-school of nurses, that of civility. It is not every one who has a fascinating manner. What a great gift of fortune it is! But it is in every one's power to try and cultivate a civil manner.
In the matter of "keeping a hotel"—a slang expression which has become a proverb—how well the women in Europe understand their business, and how poorly the women in America understand theirs! In England and all over the Continent the newly arrived stranger is received by a woman neatly dressed, with pleasant, respectful manners, who is overflowing with optional civilities. She conducts the lady to her room, asks if she will have the blinds drawn or open, if she will have hot water or cold, if she would like a cup of tea, etc.; sends a neat chambermaid to her to take her orders, gets her pen and paper for her notes—in fact, treats her as a lady should treat a guest. Even in very rural districts the landlady comes out to her own door to meet the stranger, holds her neat hand to assist her to alight, and performs for her all the service she can while she is under her roof.
In America a lady may alight in what is called a tavern, weary, travel-stained, and with a headache. She is shown into a waiting-room where sits, perhaps, an overdressed female in a rocking-chair violently fanning herself. She learns that this is the landlady. She asks if she can have a room, some hot water, etc. The answer may be, "I don't know; I don't have to work; perhaps Jim will tell you." And it is to the man of the house that the traveller must apply. It is a favorable sign that American men are never ashamed to labor, although they may not overflow with civility. It is a very unfavorable sign for the women of America when they are afraid or ashamed of work, and when they hesitate to do that which is nearest them with civility and interest.
Another test of self-respect, and one which is sometimes lacking in those whom the world calls fashionable, those who have the possessions which the majority of us desire, fine houses, fine clothes, wealth, good position, etc., is the lack or the presence of "fine courtesy," which shall treat every one so that he or she is entirely at ease.
"Society is the intercourse of persons on a footing of apparent equality," and if so, any one in it who treats other people so as to make them uncomfortable is manifestly unfit for society. Now an optional courtesy should be the unfailing custom of such a woman, we will say, one who has the power of giving pain by a slight, who can wound amour propre in the shy, can make a d,butante stammer and blush, can annoy a shy youth by a sneer. How many a girl has had her society life ruined by the cruelty of a society leader! how many a young man has had his blood frozen by a contemptuous smile at his awkwardness! How much of the native good-will of an impulsive person has been frozen into a caustic and sardonic temper by the lack of a little optional civility? The servant who comes for a place, and seats herself while the lady who speaks to her is standing, is wanting in optional civility. She sins from ignorance, and should be kindly told of her offence, and taught better manners. The rich woman who treats a guest impolitely, the landlady who sits in her rocking-chair while the traveller waits for those comforts which her house of call invites, all are guilty of the same offence. It hurts the landlady and the servant more nearly than it does the rich woman, because it renders their self-imposed task of getting a living the more difficult, but it is equally reprehensible in all three.
Good manners are said to be the result of a kind heart and careful home training; bad manners, the result of a coarse nature and unwise training. We are prone to believe that bad manners in Americans are almost purely from want of thought. There is no more generous, kindly, or better people in the world than the standard American, but he is often an untrained creature. The thousands of emigrants who land on our shores, with privileges which they never thought to have thrust upon them, how can they immediately learn good manners? In the Old World tradition of power is still so fresh that they have to learn respect for their employers there. Here there are no such traditions.
The first duty, then, it would seem, both for those to whom fortune has been kind and for those who are still courting her favors, would be to study optional civility; not only the decencies of life, but a little more. Not only be virtuous, but have the shadows of virtue. Be polite, be engaging; give a cordial bow, a gracious smile; make sunshine in a shady place. Begin at home with your optional civility. Not only avoid those serious breaches of manners which should cause a man to kick another man down-stairs, but go further than good manners—have better manners. Let men raise their hats to women, give up seats in cars, kiss the hand of an elderly lady if she confers the honor of her acquaintance upon them, protect the weak, assist the fallen, and cultivate civility; in every class of life this would oil the wheels; and especially let American women seek to mend their manners.
Optional civility does not in any way include familiarity. We doubt whether it is not the best of all armor against it. Familiarity is "bad style." It is not civility which causes one lady to say to another, "Your bonnet is very unbecoming; let me beg of you to go to another milliner." That is familiarity, which however much it may be supposed to be excess of friendship, is generally either caused by spite or by a deficiency of respect The latter is never pardonable. It is in doubtful taste to warn people of their faults, to comment upon their lack of taste, to carry them disagreeable tidings, under the name of friendship. On the Continent, where diffidence is unknown, where a man, whoever he may be, has a right to speak to his fellow-man (if he does it civilly), where a woman finds other women much more polite to her than women are to each other in this country, there is no familiarity. It is almost an insult to touch the person; for instance, no one places his hand on the arm or shoulder of another person unless there is the closest intimacy; but everywhere there is an optional civility freely given between poor and poor, rich and poor, rich and rich, superiors and inferiors, between equals. It would be pleasant to follow this out in detail, the results are so agreeable and so honorable.
CHAPTER III. GOOD AND BAD SOCIETY.
Many of our correspondents ask us to define what is meant by the terms "good society" and "bad society." They say that they read in the newspapers of the "good society" in New York and Washington and Newport, and that it is a record of drunkenness, flirtation, bad manners and gossip, backbiting, divorce, and slander. They read that the fashionable people at popular resorts commit all sorts of vulgarities, such as talking aloud at the opera, and disturbing their neighbors; that young men go to a dinner, get drunk, and break glasses; and one ingenuous young girl remarks, "We do not call that good society in Atlanta."
Such a letter might have been written to that careful chronicler of "good society" in the days of Charles II., old Pepys of courtly fame. The young maiden of Hertfordshire, far from the Court, might well have thought of Rochester and such "gay sparks," and the ladies who threw glasses of wine at them, as not altogether well-bred, nor entitled to admission into "good society." We cannot blame her.
It is the old story. Where, too, as in our land, pleasure and luxury rule a certain set who enjoy no tradition of good manners, the contradiction in terms is the more apparent. Even the external forms of respect to good manners are wanting. No such overt vulgarity, for instance, as talking aloud at the opera will ever be endured in London, because a powerful class of really well-born and well-bred people will hiss it down, and insist on the quiet which music, of all other things, demands. That is what we mean by a tradition of good manners.
In humbler society, we may say as in the household of a Scotch peasant, such as was the father of Carlyle, the breaches of manners which are often seen in fashionable society would never occur. They would appear perfectly impossible to a person who had a really good heart and a gentle nature. The manners of a young man of fashion who keeps his hat on when speaking to a lady, who would smoke in her face, and would appear indifferent to her comfort at a supper-table, who would be contradictory and neglectful—such manners would have been impossible to Thomas or John Carlyle, reared as they were in the humblest poverty. It was the "London swell" who dared to be rude in their day as now.
But this impertinence and arrogance of fashion should not prevent the son of a Scotch peasant from acquiring, or attempting to acquire, the conventional habits and manners of a gentleman. If he have already the grace of high culture, he should seek to add to it the knowledge of social laws, which will render him an agreeable person to be met in society. He must learn how to write a graceful note, and to answer his invitations promptly; he must learn the etiquette of dress and of leaving cards; he must learn how to eat his dinner gracefully, and, even if he sees in good society men of external polish guilty of a rudeness which would have shocked the man who in the Scotch Highlands fed and milked the cows, he still must not forget that society demands something which was not found in the farm-yard. Carlyle, himself the greatest radical and democrat in the world, found that life at Craigenputtock would not do all for him, that he must go to London and Edinburgh to rub off his solitary neglect of manners, and strive to be like other people. On the other band, the Queen of England has just refused to receive the Duke of Marlborough because he notoriously ill-treated the best of wives, and had been, in all his relations of life, what they call in England a "cad." She has even asked him to give back the Star and Garter, the insignia once worn by the great duke, which has never fallen on shoulders so unworthy as those of the late Marquis of Blandford, now Duke of Marlborough. For all this the world has great reason to thank the Queen, for the present duke has been always in "good society," and such is the reverence felt for rank and for hereditary name in England that he might have continued in the most fashionable circles for all his bad behaviour, still being courted for name and title, had not the highest lady in the land rebuked him.
She has refused to receive the friends of the Prince of Wales, particularly some of his American favorites, this good Queen, because she esteems good manners and a virtuous life as a part of good society.
Now, those who are not "in society" are apt to mistake all that is excessive, all that is boorish, all that is snobbish, all that is aggressive, as being a part of that society. In this they are wrong. No one estimates the grandeur of the ocean by the rubbish thrown up on the shore. Fashionable society, good society, the best society, is composed of the very best people, the most polished and accomplished, religious, moral, and charitable.
The higher the civilization, therefore, the better the society, it being always borne in mind that there will be found, here and there, the objectionable outgrowths of a false luxury and of an insincere culture. No doubt, among the circles of the highest nobility, while the king and queen may be people of simple and unpretending manners, there may be some arrogant and self-sufficient master of ceremonies, some Malvolio whose pomposity is in strange contrast to the good-breeding of Olivia. It is the lesser star which twinkles most. The "School for Scandal" is a lasting picture of the folly and frivolity of a certain phase of London society in the past, and it repeats itself in every decade. There is always a Mrs. Candour, a Sir Benjamin Backbite, and a scandalous college at Newport, in New York, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Saratoga, Long Branch, wherever society congregates. It is the necessary imperfection, the seamy side. Such is the reverse of the pattern. Unfortunately, the right side is not so easily described. The colors of a beautiful bit of brocade are, when seen as a whole, so judiciously blended that they can hardly be pronounced upon individually: one only admires the tout ensemble, and that uncritically, perhaps.
That society is bad whose members, however tenacious they be of forms of etiquette and elaborate ceremonials, have one code of manners for those whom they deem their equals, and another for those whom they esteem to be of less importance to them by reason of age, pecuniary condition, or relative social influence. Bad manners are apt to prove the concomitant of a mind and disposition that are none too good, and the fashionable woman who slights and wounds people because they cannot minister to her ambition, challenges a merciless criticism of her own moral shortcomings. A young girl who is impertinent or careless in her demeanor to her mother or her mother's friends; who goes about without a chaperon and talks slang; who is careless in her bearing towards young men, permitting them to treat her as if she were one of themselves; who accepts the attention of a young man of bad character or dissipated habits because he happens to be rich; who is loud in dress and rough in manner—such a young girl is "bad society," be she the daughter of an earl or a butcher. There are many such instances of audacity in the so-called "good society" of America, but such people do not spoil it; they simply isolate themselves.
A young man is "bad society" who is indifferent to those older than himself, who neglects to acknowledge invitations, who sits while a lady stands, who goes to a ball and does not speak to his host, who is selfish, who is notoriously immoral and careless of his good name, and who throws discredit on his father and mother by showing his ill-breeding. No matter how rich, how externally agreeable to those whom he may wish to court, no matter how much varnish of outward manner such a man may possess, he is "bad society."
A parvenue who assumes to keep other people out of the society which she has just conquered, whose thoughts are wholly upon social success (which means, with her, knowing somebody who has heretofore refused to know her), who is climbing, and throwing backward looks of disdain upon those who also climb—such a woman, unfortunately too common in America, is, when she happens to have achieved a fashionable position, one of the worst instances of bad society. She may be very prominent, powerful, and influential. She may have money and "entertain," and people desirous of being amused may court her, and her bad manners will be accepted by the careless observer as one of the concomitants of fashion. The reverse is true. She is an interloper in the circles of good society, and the old fable of the ass in the lion's skin fits her precisely. Many a duchess in England is such an interloper; her supercilious airs betray the falsity of her politeness, but she is obliged by the rules of the Court at which she has been educated to "behave like a lady;" she has to counterfeit good-breeding; she cannot, she dare not, behave as a woman who has suddenly become rich may sometimes, nay does, behave in American society, and still be received.
It will thus be seen, as has been happily expressed, that "fashion has many classes, and many rules of probation and admission." A young person ignorant of its laws should not be deluded, however, by false appearances. If a young girl comes from the most secluded circles to Saratoga, and sees some handsome, well-dressed, conspicuous woman much courted, lionized, as it were, and observes in her what seems to be insolent pretence, unkindness, frivolity, and superciliousness, let her inquire and wait before she accepts this bit of brass for pure gold. Emerson defines "sterling fashion as funded talent." Its objects may be frivolous or objectless; but, in the long-run, its purposes are neither frivolous nor accidental. It is an effort for good society; it is the bringing together of admirable men and women in a pleasant way. Good-breeding, personal superiority, beauty, genius, culture, are all very good things. Every one delights in a person of charming manners. Some people will forgive very great derelictions in a person who has charming manners, but the truly good society is the society of those who have virtue and good manners both.
Some Englishman asked an American, "What sort of a country is America?" "It is a country where everybody can tread on everybody's toes," was the answer.
It is very bad society where any one wishes to tread on his neighbor's toes, and worse yet where there is a disposition to feel aggrieved, or to show that one feels aggrieved. There are certain people new in society who are always having their toes trodden upon. They say: "Mrs. Brown snubbed me; Mrs. Smith does not wish to know me; Mrs. Thompson ought to have invited me. I am as good as any of them." This is very bad society. No woman with self-respect will ever say such things. If one meets with rudeness, take no revenge, cast no aspersions. Wit and tact, accomplishments and social talents, may have elevated some woman to a higher popularity than another, but no woman will gain that height by complaining. Command of temper, delicacy of feeling, and elegance of manner—all these are demanded of the persons who become leaders of society, and would remain so. They alone are "good society." Their imitators may masquerade for a time, and tread on toes, and fling scorn and insult about them while in a false and insecure supremacy; but such pretenders to the throne are soon unseated. There is a dreadful Sedan and Strasburg awaiting them. They distrust their own flatterers; their "appanage" is not a solid one.
People who are looking on at society from a distance must remember that women of the world are not always worldly women. They forget that brilliancy in society may be accompanied by the best heart and the sternest principle. The best people of the world are those who know the world best. They recognize the fact that this world should be known and served and treated with as much respect and sincerity as that other world, which is to be our reward for having conquered the one in which we live now.
CHAPTER IV. ON INTRODUCING PEOPLE.
A lady in her own house can in these United States do pretty much as she pleases, but there is one thing in which our cultivated and exclusive city fashionable society seems agreed, and that is, that she must not introduce two ladies who reside in the same town. It is an awkward and an embarrassing restriction, particularly as the other rule, which renders it easy enough—the English rule—that the "roof is an introduction," and that visitors can converse without further notice, is not understood. So awkward, however, are Americans about this, that even in very good houses one lady has spoken to another, perhaps to a young girl, and has received no answer, "because she had not been introduced;" but this state of ignorance is, fortunately, not very common. It should be met by the surprised rejoinder of the Hoosier school-mistress: "Don't yer know enough to speak when yer spoken to?" Let every woman remember, whether she is from the backwoods, or from the most fashionable city house, that no such casual conversation can hurt her. It does not involve the further acquaintance of these two persons. They may cease to know each other when they go down the front steps; and it would be kinder if they would both relieve the lady of the house of their joint entertainment by joining in the conversation, or even speaking to each other.
A hostess in this land is sometimes young, embarrassed, and not fluent. The presence of two ladies with whom she is not very well acquainted herself, and both of whom she must entertain, presents a fearful dilemma. It is a kindness to her, which should outweigh the dangers of making an acquaintance in "another set," if those ladies converse a little with each other.
If one lady desires to be introduced to another, the hostess should ask if she may do so, of course unobtrusively. Sometimes this places one lady in an unlucky position towards another. She does not know exactly what to do. Mrs. So-and-so may have the gift of exclusiveness, and may desire that Mrs. That-and-that shall not have the privilege of bowing to her. Gurowski says, in his very clever book on America, that snobbishness is a peculiarity of the fashionable set in America, because they do not know where they stand. It is the peculiarity of vulgar people everywhere, whether they sit on thrones or keep liquor-shops; snobs are born—not made. If, ever, a lady has this gift or this drawback of exclusiveness, it is wrong to invade her privacy by introducing people to her.
Introducing should not be indiscriminately done either at home or in society by any lady, however kind-hearted. Her own position must be maintained, and that may demand a certain loyalty to her own set. She must be careful how she lets loose on society an undesirable or aggressive man, for instance, or a great bore, or a vulgar, irritating woman. These will all be social obstacles to the young ladies of her family, whom she must first consider. She must not add to the embarrassments of a lady who has already too large a visiting list. Unsolicited introductions are bad for both parties. Some large-hearted women of society are too generous by half in this way. A lady should by adroit questions find out how a new acquaintance would be received, whether or not it is the desire of both parties to know each other; for, if there is the slightest doubt existing on this point, she will be blamed by both. It is often the good-natured desire of a sympathetic person that the people whom she knows well should know each other. She therefore strives to bring them together at lunch or dinner, but perhaps finds out afterwards that one of the ladies has particular objections to knowing the other, and she is not thanked. The disaffected lady shows her displeasure by being impolite to the pushing lady, as she may consider her. Had no introduction taken place, she argues, she might have Still enjoyed a reputation for politeness. Wary women of the world are therefore very shy of introducing two women to each other.
This is the awkward side. The more agreeable and, we may say, humane side has its thousands and thousands of supporters, who believe that a friendly introduction hurts no one; but we are now not talking of kindness, but of etiquette, which is decidedly opposed to indiscriminate introductions.
Society is such a complicated organization, and its laws are so lamentably unwritten, yet so deeply engraved on certain minds, that these things become important to those who are always winding and unwinding the chains of fashion.
It is therefore well to state it as a received rule that no gentleman should ever be introduced to a lady unless her permission has been asked, and she be given an opportunity to refuse; and that no woman should be introduced formally to another woman unless the introducer has consulted the wishes of both women. No delicate-minded person would ever intrude herself upon the notice of a person to whom she had been casually introduced in a friend's drawing-room; but all the world, unfortunately, is not made up of delicate-minded persons.
In making an introduction, the gentleman is presented to the lady with some such informal speech as this: "Mrs. A, allow me to present Mr. B;" or, "Mrs. A, Mr. B desires the honor of knowing you." In introducing two women, present the younger to the older woman, the question of rank not holding good in our society where the position of the husband, be he judge, general, senator, or president even, does not give his wife fashionable position. She may be of far less importance in the great world of society than some Mrs. Smith, who, having nothing else, is set down as of the highest rank in that unpublished but well-known book of heraldry which is so thoroughly understood in America as a tradition. It is the proper thing for a gentleman to ask a mutual friend or an acquaintance to introduce him to a lady, and there are few occasions when this request is refused. In our crowded ballrooms, chaperons often ask young men if they will be introduced to their charges. It is better before asking the young men of this present luxurious age, if they will not only be introduced, but if they propose to dance, with the young lady, else that young person may be mortified by a snub. It is painful to record, as we must, that the age of chivalry is past, and that at a gay ball young men appear as supremely selfish, and desire generally only introductions to the reigning belle, or to an heiress, not deigning to look at the humble wall-flower, who is neither, but whose womanhood should command respect. Ballroom introductions are supposed to mean, on the part of the gentleman, either an intention to dance with the young lady, to walk with her, or to talk to her through one dance, or to show her some attention.
Men scarcely ever ask to be introduced to each other, but if a lady, through some desire of her own, wishes to present them, she should never be met by indifference on their part. Men have a right to be exclusive as to their acquaintances, of course; but at a lady's table, or in her parlor, they should never openly show distaste for each other's society before her.
In America it is the fashion to shake hands, and most women, if desirous of being cordial, extend their hands even on a first introduction; but it is, perhaps, more elegant to make a bow only, at a first introduction.
In her own house a hostess should always extend her hand to a person brought to her by a mutual friend, and introduced for the first time. At a dinner-party, a few minutes before dinner, the hostess introduces to a lady the gentleman who is to take her down to the dining-room, but makes no further introductions, except in the case of a distinguished stranger, to whom all the company are introduced. Here people, as we have said, are shy of speaking, but they should not be, for the room where they meet is a sufficient guarantee that they can converse without any loss of dignity.
At large gatherings in the country it is proper for the lady to introduce her guests to each other, and it is perfectly proper to do this without asking permission of either party. A mother always introduces her son or daughter, a husband his wife, or a wife her husband, without asking permission.
A gentleman, after being introduced to a lady, must wait for her to bow first before he ventures to claim her as an acquaintance.
This is Anglo-Saxon etiquette. On the Continent, however, the gentleman bows first. There the matter of the raising the hat is also important. An American gentleman takes his hat quite off to a lady; a foreigner raises it but slightly, and bows with a deferential air. Between ladies but slightly acquainted, and just introduced, a very formal bow is all that is proper; acquaintances and friends bow and smile; intimate male friends simply nod, but all gentlemen with ladies raise the hat and bow if the lady recognizes a friend.
Introductions which take place out-of-doors, as on the lawn-tennis ground, in the hunting field, in the street, or in any casual way, are not to be taken as necessarily formal, unless the lady chooses so to consider them. The same may be said of introductions at a watering-place, where a group of ladies walking together may meet other ladies or gentlemen, and join forces for a walk or drive. Introductions are needful, and should be made by the oldest lady of the party, but are not to be considered as making an acquaintance necessary between the parties if neither should afterwards wish it. It is universally conceded now that this sort of casual introduction does not involve either lady in the net-work of a future acquaintance; nor need a lady recognize a gentleman, if she does not choose to do so, after a watering-place introduction. It is always, however, more polite to bow; that civility hurts no one.
There are in our new country many women who consider themselves fashionable leaders—members of an exclusive set—and who fear if they should know some other women out of that set that they would imperil their social standing. These people have no titles by which they can be known, so they preserve their exclusiveness by disagreeable manners, as one would hedge a garden by a border of prickly-pear. The result is that much ill-feeling is engendered in society, and people whom these old aristocrats call the "nouveaux riches," "parvenus," etc., are always having their feelings hurt. The fact remains that the best-bred and most truly aristocratic people do not find it necessary to hurt any one's feelings. An introduction never harms anybody, and a woman with the slightest tact can keep off a vulgar and a pushing person without being rude. It is to be feared that there are vulgar natures among those who aspire to be considered exclusive, and that they are gratified if they can presumably increase their own importance by seeming exclusive; but it is not necessary to dwell on such people.
The place given here to the ill-bred is only conceded to them that one may realize the great demands made upon the tact and the good feeling of a hostess. She must have a quick apprehension; she may and will remember, however, that it is very easily forgiven, this kind-heartedness—that it is better to sin against etiquette than to do an unkind thing.
Great pains should be taken by a hostess to introduce shy people. Young people are those whose pleasure must depend on introductions.
It is well for a lady in presenting two strangers to say something which may break the ice, and make the conversation easy and agreeable; as, for instance, "Mrs. Smith, allow me to present Mr. Brown, who has just arrived from New Zealand;" or, "Mrs. Jones, allow me to present Mrs. Walsingham, of Washington—or San Francisco," so that the two may naturally have a question and answer ready with which to step over the threshold of conversation without tripping.
At a five-o'clock tea or a large reception there are reasons why a lady cannot introduce any one but the daughter or sister whom she has in charge. A lady who comes and knows no one sometimes goes away feeling that her hostess has been inattentive, because no one has spoken to her. She remembers Europe, where the roof-tree has been an introduction, and where people spoke kindly to her and did not pass her by. Dinner-parties in stiff and formal London have this great attraction: a gentleman steps up and speaks to a lady, although they have never met before, and often takes her down to dinner without an introduction. The women chat after dinner like old friends; every one knows that the roof is a sufficient guarantee. This is as it should be; but great awkwardness results in the United States if one lady speaks to another and receives no answer. "Pray, can you tell me who the pianist is?" said a leader of society to a young girl near her at a private concert. The young lady looked distressed and blushed, and did not answer. Having seen a deaf-mute in the room whom she knew, the speaker concluded that this young lady belonged to that class of persons, and was very much surprised when later the hostess brought up this silent personage and introduced her.
"I could not speak to you before because I had not been introduced—but the pianist is Mr. Mills," remarked this punctilious person. "I, however, could speak to you, although we had not been formally presented. The roof was a sufficient guarantee of your respectability, and I thought from your not answering that you were deaf and dumb," said the lady.
The rebuke was deserved. Common-sense must interpret etiquette; "nice customs courtesy to great kings." Society depends upon its social soothsayers for all that is good in it. A disagreeable woman can always find precedents for being formal and chilling; a fine-tempered woman can always find reasons enough for being agreeable. A woman would rather be a benediction than a curse, one would think. We hold it proper, all things considered, that at dinner-parties and receptions a hostess may introduce her friends to each other. So long as there is embarrassment, or the mistake made by the young lady above mentioned who would not answer a civil question; so long as these mistakes and others are made, and the result be stupidity and gloom, and a party silent and thumb-twisting, instead of gayly conversing, as it should be; so long as people do not come together easily—it is manifestly proper that the hostess should put her finger on the social pendulum, and give it a swing to start the conversational clock. All well-bred people recognize the propriety of speaking to even an enemy at a dinner-party, although they would suffer no recognition an hour later. The same principle holds good, of course, if, in the true exercise of her hospitality, the hostess should introduce some person whom she would like to commend. These are the exceptions which form the rule.
Care should be taken in presenting foreigners to young ladies; sometimes titles are dubious. Here, a hostess is to be forgiven if she positively declines. She may say, politely, "I hardly think I know you well enough to dare to present you to that young lady. You must wait until her parents (or guardians, or chaperon) will present you."
But the numbers of agreeable people who are ready and waiting to be introduced are many. The woman of literary distinction and the possessor of an honored name may be invincibly shy and afraid to speak; while her next neighbor, knowing her fame perhaps, and anxious to make her acquaintance, misconstrues shyness for pride—a masquerade which bashfulness sometimes plays; so two people, with volumes to say to each other, remain silent as fishes, until the kindly magician comes along, and, by the open sesame of an introduction, unlocks the treasure which has been so deftly hidden. A woman of fashion may enter an assembly of thinkers and find herself dreaded and shunned, until some kind word creates the entente cordiale. In the social entertainments of New York, the majority prefer those where the hostess introduces her guests—under, of course, these wise and proper limitations.
As for forms of introduction, the simplest are best. A lady should introduce her husband as "Mr. Brown," "General Brown," "Judge Brown." If he has a title she is always to give it to him. Our simple forms of titular respect have been condemned abroad, and we are accused of being all "colonels" and "generals;" but a wife should still give her husband his title. In addressing the President we say "Mr. President," but his wife should say, "Allow me to introduce the President to you." The modesty of Mrs. Grant, however, never allowed her to call her many-titled husband anything but "Mr. Grant," which had, in her case, a sweetness above all etiquette.
Introductions in the homely German fatherland are universal, everybody pronouncing to everybody else the name of the lady to whom he is talking; and among our German fellow-citizens we often see a gentleman convoying a lady through a crowded assemblage, introducing her to everybody. It is a simple, cordial, and pleasant thing enough, as with them the acquaintance stops there; and a bow and smile hurt nobody.
No one of heart or mind need feel afraid to talk and be agreeable, whether introduced or not, at a friend's house; even if she meets with the rebuff of a deaf-and-dumb neighbor, she need not feel heart-broken: she is right, and her stiff acquaintance is wrong.
If a gentleman asks to be presented to a lady, she should signify her assent in a pleasant way, and pay her hostess, through whom the request comes, the compliment of at least seeming to be gratified at the introduction. Our American ladies are sometimes a little lacking in cordiality of manner, often receiving a new acquaintance with that part of their conformation which is known as the "cold shoulder." A brusque discourtesy is bad, a very effusive courtesy and a too low bow are worse, and an overwhelming and patronizing manner is atrocious. The proper salutation lies just between the two extremes: the juste milieu is the proper thing always. In seeking introductions for ourselves, while we need not be shy of making a first visit or asking for an introduction, we must still beware of "push." There are instincts in the humblest understanding which will tell us where to draw the line. If a person is socially more prominent than ourselves, or more distinguished in any way, we should not be violently anxious to take the first step; we should wait until some happy chance brought us together, for we must be as firm in our self-respect as our neighbor is secure in her exalted position. Wealth has heretofore had very little power to give a person an exclusively fashionable position. Character, breeding, culture, good connections—all must help. An aristocrat who is such by virtue of an old and honored name which has never been tarnished is a power in the newest society as in the oldest; but it is a shadowy power, felt rather than described. Education is always a power.
To be sure, there is a tyranny in large cities of what is known as the "fashionable set," formed of people willing to spend money; who make a sort of alliance, offensive and defensive; who can give balls and parties and keep certain people out; who have the place which many covet; who are too much feared and dreaded. If those who desire an introduction to this set strive for it too much, they will be sure to be snubbed; for this circle lives by snubbing. If such an aspirant will wait patiently, either the whole autocratic set of ladies will disband—for such sets disentangle easily—or else they in their turn will come knocking at the door and ask to be received. L'art de tenir salon is not acquired in an hour. It takes many years for a new and an uninstructed set to surmount all the little awkwardnesses, the dubious points of etiquette, that come up in every new shuffle of the social cards; but a modest and serene courtesy, a civility which is not servile, will be a good introduction into any society.
And it is well to have that philosophical spirit which puts the best possible interpretation upon the conduct of others. Be not in haste to consider yourself neglected. Self-respect does not easily receive an insult. A lady who is fully aware of her own respectability, who has always lived in the best society, is never afraid to bow or call first, or to introduce the people whom she may desire should know each other. She perhaps presumes on her position, but it is very rare that such a person offends; for tact is almost always the concomitant of social success.
There has been a movement lately towards the stately bows and courtesies of the past in our recent importation of Old-World fashions. A lady silently courtesies when introduced, a gentleman makes a deep bow without speaking. We have had the custom of hand-shaking—and a very good custom it is—but perhaps the latest fashion in ceremonious introduction forbids it. If a gentleman carries his crush hat, and a lady her fan and a bouquet, hand-shaking may not be perfectly convenient. However, if a lady or gentleman extends a hand, it should be taken cordially. Always respond to the greeting in the key-note of the giver.
CHAPTER V. VISITING.
No term admits of a wider interpretation than this; no subject is capable of a greater number of subdivisions. The matter of formal visiting has led to the writing of innumerable books. The decay of social visiting is a cause of regret to all the old-fashioned people who remember how agreeable it was; but our cities have grown too large for it, and in our villages the population changes too quickly. The constant effort to make the two systems shake hands, to add cordiality to formality, and to provide for all the forced conditions of a rapidly growing and constantly changing society, these are but a few of the difficulties attending this subject.
The original plan of an acquaintance in a formal city circle was to call once or twice a year on all one's friends personally, with the hope and the remote expectation of finding two or three at home. When society was smaller in New York, this was possible, but it soon grew to be impossible, as in all large cities. This finally led to the establishment of a reception day which held good all winter. That became impossible and tiresome, and was narrowed down to four Tuesdays, perhaps, in one month; that resolved itself into one or two five-o'clock teas; and then again, if a lady got lame or lazy or luxurious, even the last easy method of receiving her friends became too onerous, and cards were left or sent in an envelope.
Now, according to the strict rules of etiquette, one card a year left at the door, or one sent in an envelope, continues the acquaintance. We can never know what sudden pressure of calamity, what stringent need of economy, what exigencies of work, may prompt a lady to give up her visiting for a season. Even when there is no apparent cause, society must ask no questions, but must acquiesce in the most good-natured view of the subject.
Still, there must be uniformity. We are not pleased to receive Mrs. Brown's card by post, and then to meet her making a personal visit to our next neighbor. We all wish to receive our personal visits, and if a lady cannot call on all her formal acquaintances once, she had better call on none.
If she gives one reception a year and invites all her "list," she is then at liberty to refrain from either calling or sending a card, unless she is asked to a wedding or dinner, a ladies' lunch or a christening, or receives some very particular invitation which she must return by an early personal call—the very formal and the punctilious say within a week, but that is often impossible.
And if a lady have a day, the call should be made on that day; it is rude to ignore the intimation. One should try to call on a reception day. But here in a crowded city another complication comes in. If a lady have four Thursdays in January and several other ladies have Thursdays, it may be impossible to reach all those ladies on their reception day. There is nothing for it, then, but to good-naturedly apologize, and to regret that calling hours are now reduced to between four and six in large cities.
Some people have too many acquaintances. If they hope to do anything in the world but drive about and leave cards, they must exonerate themselves from blame by giving a reception, having a day or an evening for receiving, and then trust to the good-nature of society, or its forgetfulness, which is about the same thing, to excuse them.
Happy those ladies who can give up an evening a week to their friends; that rubs out the score on the social slate, besides giving a number of people a chance to spend a very agreeable hour in that society which gathers around a hospitable lamp.
The danger of this kind of hospitality is that it is abused by bores, who are too apt to congregate in numbers, and to wear out the lady of the house by using her parlor as a spot where they are safe from the rain and cold and free to bestow their tediousness on anybody, herself included. Then a lady after committing herself to a reception evening often wishes to go out herself. It requires unselfishness to give up an evening to that large circle, some of whom forget it, some go elsewhere, some come too often, and sometimes, alas! no on e calls. These are the drawbacks of an "evening at home." However, it is a laudable custom; one could wish it were more common.
No one can forget the eloquent thanks of such men as Horace Walpole, and other persons of distinction, to the Misses Berry, in London, who kept up their evening receptions for sixty years. But, from the trials of those who have too much visiting, we turn to the people who have all the means and appliances of visiting and no one to visit.
The young married woman who comes to New York, or any other large city, often passes years of loneliness before she has made her acquaintances. She is properly introduced, we will say by her mother-in-law or some other friend, and then, after a round of visits in which she has but, perhaps, imperfectly apprehended the positions and names of her new acquaintances, she has a long illness, or she is called into mourning, or the cares of the nursery surround her, and she is shut out from society until it has forgotten her; and when she is ready to emerge, it is difficult for her to find her place again in the visiting-book. If she is energetic and clever, she surmounts this difficulty by giving a series of receptions, or engaging in charities, or working on some committee, making herself of use to society in some way; and thus picks up her dropped stitches. But some young women are without the courage and tact to do this thing; they wait, expecting that society will find them out, and, taking them up, will do all the work and leave them to accept or refuse civilities as they please. Society never does this; it has too much on its hands; a few conspicuously beautiful and gifted people may occasionally receive such an ovation, but it is not for the rank and file.