In my last post, we examined gentlemen’s etiquette, so it’s only fair to see how the ladies are behaving. I’m excerpting from the British edition (the book was later released in America) of Domestic Duties; Or, Instructions To Young Married Ladies On The Management Of Their Households, And The Regulation Of Their Conduct In The Various Relations And Duties Of Married Life by Mrs. William Parkes and published in 1825.
My friend Abigail and I had a lovely afternoon picking out images for this post while our children played. The late Regency pictures of people and fashion come from The Lady’s Monthly Museum, from the years 1824 and 1825 and Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c from the year 1824. If you click on the images, you will be linked to the correct journal where you can find a description of the fashions.
This post has been divided into six sections: morning calls, dinner parties, balls, routs, conversaziones and card parties.
Section One : Morning Calls
Mrs. L. — Having satisfied me with regard to some important points of conduct, allow me, my dear madam, to consult your experience respecting those minor circumstances, connected with society and domestic economy, to which newly married ladies are frequently strangers. It is too much the fashion to confine the attention of juvenile females to the acquisition of those accomplishments which may adorn them for the drawing-room, while they neglect to attain useful knowledge until they require it for immediate practice. Of the number of these young women, I must unhappily count myself; though perhaps more fortunate than many others, in having so kind and experienced a friend as yourself at hand, with whom I can hold such agreeable consultations. In the first place, I wish to know, the forms to be observed in morning visiting; in what manner and at what time, I am to return the attentions of those whose cards are spread upon my table. Some of them, I perceive, have been left by persons whom I very highly esteem; others, by individuals with whom I am unacquainted; and some even by those with whom I have no desire to be intimate.
Mrs. B. — A newly married woman, on arriving at her future home, will have to send her cards in return for those which are left at her house, after her marriage. She may afterwards expect the calls of her acquaintance; for which it is not absolutely necessary to remain at home, although politeness require that they should be returned as soon as possible. But having performed this, any further intercourse may be avoided (where it is deemed necessary) by a polite refusal of invitations. Where cards are to be left, the number must be determined according to the various members of which the family called upon is composed. For instance, where there are the mother, aunt, and daughters (the latter having been introduced to society), three cards should be left.
Morning visits should not be long. In this species of intercourse, the manners should be easy and cheerful, and the subjects of conversation such as may be easily terminated. The time proper for such visits is too short to admit of serious discussions and arguments. The conduct of others often, at these times, becomes the subject of remark; but it is dangerous and improper to express opinions of persons and characters upon a recent acquaintance; and a young married female would do wisely, to sound the opinions and to examine for herself the characters of a new circle of acquaintance, before exposing her own sentiments. The deportment of a bride, in particular, is so far important to herself, that it may decide in a degree her future estimation in society.
Mrs. L. — I have often thought that morning visits are very annoying, both to receive and to pay. They fritter away so much time, without affording any adequate return; unless, indeed, anything be gained by hearing the little nothings of the day enlarged upon, and perhaps of acquiring one’s self the art of discussing them as if they were matters of deep importance.
Mrs. B. — And yet, when it is desirable to keep together a large circle of acquaintance, morning visits cannot very well be dispensed with. You must be aware that as time and circumstances seldom permit the frequent interchange of other visits, our acquaintance would become estranged from us, if our intercourse with them were not occasionally renewed by receiving and paying morning visits. A good economist of time will, of course, keep morning visits strictly for this purpose; and, not considering them as intended merely for amusement, will not make them more frequently than is necessary. By the occasional appropriation of a few hours many debts of this kind may be paid off at once, and thus a season for other pursuits will be provided. The economy of time, so essential to the head of a family, will also prompt certain limitations as to the times of receiving morning visits. To have every morning liable to such interruptions, must be a great impediment in the way of more important avocations, and must occasion the useless dissipation of many an hour. Experience has found this out, or the custom of denial would not have become so prevalent.
Mrs. L. — What is your opinion of denials?
Mrs. B. — Something may be said on both sides of the question, respecting the propriety of this custom. As the words “not at home” have become synonymous with “being engaged,” they neither deceive, nor are intended to deceive; therefore they may be employed innocently, as far as regards our friends and ourselves; but I am not quite so well satisfied as to the effect upon our domestics, whom in the morning we may desire to utter a deliberate falsehood (according to their apprehension) for our convenience, whilst in the evening, we may find occasion to reprimand them for one employed in their own service. How can we expect ignorant servants to discriminate between the falsehood which the use of the phrase “not at home” in its literal meaning conveys, when it is employed to forbid the intrusion of a visitor at an unseasonable moment, and the meaning which fashion and custom have now attached to it? I am afraid their integrity is weakened by its use; and the habit once begun in the practice of deceit, no one can tell to what greater magnitude it may proceed. Deceit is a growing evil…
Mrs. B. — Morning visitors are generally received in the drawing-room. To preserve this apartment neat, and to exhibit good taste in its decorations and the arrangements of its furniture, are of some importance to the young mistress of a family. From these, strangers are apt to form an opinion of the character of its proprietor. The drawing-room is that part of a private house in which decorations and embellishments are most in place. It is there the graces of social intercourse are chiefly displayed; where learning relaxes from his gravity of feature; pedantry throws aside his gown and trencher; and wisdom, with the affability of benevolence, mingles in the amusements, and shares the feelings of the young, the gay, and the lovely. Everything, therefore, in the drawing-room, should be light and elegant: mirrors are here in character; and bouquets and flowering plants. On the tables may be displayed some of the labours of the fine arts, such as small specimens of sculpture and engravings. Oil paintings of a large and more important character are seldom seen upon the walls of a drawing-room, although those of a more light and airy description may there find a place; but, in general, the appearance of these in a drawing-room, of which the decorations are of a nature to throw a great variety of reflected lights upon a painting, argues a defect of knowledge of the art in the proprietor. It is agreeable to see the drawing-room tables exhibit a small and choice collection of engravings, or of water-coloured drawings; but it is better, I think, to be without them, unless they are specimens of the first character. It is here that the works of the poet, the dramatist, the novelist, and the traveller, may find an occasional resting-place; and while they display, in a degree, the taste and pursuits of the lady of the mansion, they may tend to give an interest, and afford topics for the transitory conversation of a morning visit. Memoirs, biography, reviews, and journals may be added to the list of books which are not unappropriate in the drawing-room. Nor do I mean to exclude those of a serious and moral nature, though their more suitable place is either in the library or the dressing-room, where, in seasons of privacy and abstraction, they are at hand to supply subjects for reflection and mental improvement. I am convinced it is needless to caution you, my young friend, not to permit any volumes to remain on your table which are at variance with the natural modesty and correctness of our sex, and that delicacy of mind, which, I believe, has hitherto been considered the great charm of Englishwomen. The works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Rousseau’s Confessions, Fielding’s novels, and some others, however they may be admired by the few, are becoming obsolete, and are therefore not very likely now to make their appearance on the tables of the young and fashionable; but there are many productions from modern pens, the perusal of which, I think, will afford you little gratification, and the possession of which would do little credit to your taste. Of this kind is the Don Juan, and some of the other poems of Lord Byron.
In the arrangement of the drawing-room for receiving morning visitors, the chairs should be placed so as to facilitate the colloquial intercourse of the strangers, without the necessity of a servant entering the room to place them; and this arrangement, whilst it is devoid of formality, should be done with some attention to good order. Ease, not carelessness, should predominate.
Plants and flowers are pleasing ornaments in a drawing-room, and give an exercise for taste in their choice and arrangement. They should harmonize in colour with one another, and with the furniture of the room. If it be white, pale yellow, pink and white flowers, with abundance of green leaves, should be preferred: if yellow, the most accordant colours will be, purple, violet and crimson; and if blue, white, blue, pink, orange and red. And let me also observe, that, though it may not be necessary for a lady to be a botanist or a naturalist, yet, it is awkward if she be ignorant of the names and characters of the flowers that adorn her drawing-room. To learn their names, something of their natural history, and (if they are exotics) of their native soil, is soon done, and such slight knowledge often promotes conversation between those who, from slight acquaintance, have with each other few subjects in common, and between whom, conversation, in consequence, flags, and becomes heavy.
It is almost unnecessary to add, that the occupations of drawing, music and reading, should be suspended on the entrance of morning visitors. But if a lady be engaged with light needle-work, and none other is appropriate in the drawing-room, it promotes ease, and is not inconsistent with good breeding to continue it during conversation; particularly if the visit be protracted or the visitors be gentlemen. It was formerly the custom to see visitors to the door on taking leave; but this is now discontinued. The lady of the house merely rises from her seat, shakes hands or courtesies, according as her intimacy is with the parties, and then ringing the bell to summon a servant to attend them, leaves them to find their way out of the house.
Mrs. L. — Is there not some awkwardness attending this if servants be not on the alert?
Mrs. B. — There is; but it is the duty of every mistress, to see that her servants understand, and fulfill what is requisite for the good order of her house, and the comfort of her visitors.
Section Two: Dinner Parties
Mrs. L. — How are dinner parties to be managed?
Mrs. B. — Cards for a dinner party should be issued a fortnight, three weeks, or even a month beforehand; and as dulness is less tolerable at one’s own table than at any other, care should be taken in the selection of the party, which cannot be otherwise than heavy and dull, if incongruously assembled. A very large party is not likely to be so lively and sociable, as one of moderate size. A remark has somewhere been made, that a dinner party should never be less in number than the graces, nor more than the muses, but certainly more than ten or twelve in number is not desirable. When a table is very long, the conversation, witticisms and pleasantries at one end, must be lost at the other. When, however, from prudential motives, it is an object to have a restricted number of dinner parties, they cannot, of course, be of so limited a size: it being settled by all strict economists, that the expense of dinner parties, is in proportion to the number given, and not to the size of them.
The extent of a party being determined, the next point to be considered, is the selection of the guests. It is fatal to good humour and enjoyment, to invite those to meet, who are known to be disagreeable to each other. The lively and reserved should be mixed together, so as to form an agreeable whole, the one amusing, and the other being amused. An equal number of ladies and gentlemen, neither all old, nor yet all young, should be so mingled, that the conversation may be as varied as the party, uniting the sense and experience of age, with the vivacity and originality of youth. The conversation must, in a great degree, however, be regulated by the host and hostess; who should be always prepared to rouse it, when it becomes heavy, or to change it, skillfully, when it is likely to turn upon subjects known to be unpleasant to any of their visitors. This kind of tact is the effect of habit and of associating with good company; though I see no reason why it may not soon be acquired by those who have been brought up in retirement, unless indeed an unfortunate degree of timidity exist, which must prove an obstacle in acquiring easy and fashionable manners, although it generally attends a pleasing and amiable mind.
Mrs. L. — When the party is formed, how is the table to be regulated?
Mrs. B. — The regulation of the table is a concern of some nicety; and in this every lady must first exercise her judgment as to its expense, and then show her taste in its arrangement, whatever her establishment may be: whether she have to fix upon her bill of fare with a housekeeper, or with a cook of fewer qualifications, her superintendance will still be necessary. She should be the best judge what dishes may be too expensive, too heavy, or too unsubstantial. It is an excellent plan to note down the cost of each item on the bill of fare; as in this which I have brought for your inspection. In this bill, however, I must remark, that the prices of the different articles are those of the most expensive period of the year in London. I have added a second column, in which is displayed the great economy of preparing at home, such things as may be done without great inconvenience, in almost any gentleman’s kitchen. And I ought not to omit remarking, that when economy is an important object, if the mistress of a family markets for herself, a dinner may be provided at a much less expensive rate, than when that is done by a cook.
No estimate can be given of the wines, the price of which varies, according to their age, qualities, and other circumstances; but it is well known that those who can afford to purchase this luxury in the pipe or barrel, drink it for nearly one half the sum which it costs those who obtain it in smaller quantities, and bottled, from the merchants. To provide these, however, is the province of the master of a family. In general, preserves form a part of a dessert, either West Indian or English; and when the latter are made at home, they are usually better in quality, and one half cheaper than those purchased at the confectioner’s.
Mrs. L. — Will you give me some idea of the best method of setting out and arranging a dinner table, for a party of sixteen, or twenty.
Mrs. B. — Fashion, the great arbiter of every thing connected with social life, varies the nature of the courses, and the quantity of viands which must be placed at one time upon the table; so that the dinner which might be considered as elegant at one time would have an air of vulgarity at another; particular directions, therefore, on this part of your inquiry, can scarcely be given, though by describing a dinner of three courses, for the present time, some idea may be given, which may be modified to any future change of fashion.
Thus, in the middle of the table is generally an epergne, filled with either real or artificial flowers, or it may contain a salad ornamented. A dish of fish is placed at each end of the table, one boiled and the other either fried or stewed: the requisite sauces being placed between these dishes and the epergne. Two tureens of soup, one white and the other brown, may be placed on a line with the fish, or on each side of the epergne. This is the usual plan of the first course. The second may consist of roasted and stewed meat, at the top and bottom of the table:—the choice of these must depend upon what happens to be in season. On each side of the epergne, where the soup was placed in the first course, may now be boiled chickens and a tongue, or a small ham, varnished and decorated. Between the top dishes and the epergne two small made dishes, or tureens with sauce, may fill up that space. The four corners must have covered dishes, which may contain either curry, patties, palates, riseaux, fricassee of mutton-chops, stewed rump-steaks, stewed mushrooms, stewed cucumbers, or any similar viands. Other vegetables are on a side-table, to be handed round by the servants. On removing this course, the epergne may be taken away; and, at some fashionable parties, a small table-cloth or napkin, which covers part of the table only, is also withdrawn. A third course generally consists either of two dishes of game, or of some kind of poultry, at each end of the table; or there may be but one dish of game at the bottom of the table and at the top a large dish of asparagus, sea-kale, or peas; in the centre may be a trifle, or some kind of fancy confectionary. The intermediate spaces, in the length of the table, may be occupied with a dish of prawns, at one end, neatly set up, and at the other by lobster-salad or a prepared crab. On one side of the centre dish may be a light pudding, on the other a tart or macaroni. At the corners, jellies, blancmange, tartlets, creams, or any other fancy confectionary.
The wines are placed upon the table at first, in six decanters, one of each being placed at each corner of the table, and one on each side of the epergne, whilst two bottles of some light French or Rhenish wine, undecanted and corked, and placed in silver or plated vases, fill up a space between the epergne and each end of the table. Small decanters of water, covered with an inverted tumbler, should be placed by every second guest, but malt liquors, cider, soda-water, ginger-beer, or similar beverages, are handed by the attendants when called for. In the interval of each course, champaign, hock, burgundy, or barsac, are handed round to each guest.. Cheese, with a fresh salad, follows the third course, and a glass of port wine is generally offered by the servants to each of the gentlemen.
When, according to the continental fashion, the cloth is allowed to remain on the table; or, according to the more general custom of this country, before it is removed, a silver, or a china or glass dish containing rose-water, is passed round the table, into winch each guest dips the corner of his tablenapkin, for the purpose of refreshing his mouth and fingers, prior to the appearance of the dessert.
The dessert necessarily varies with the season: when that will admit of ripe fruits, the most important, such as grapes, pine-apples, peaches, or apricots, must of course occupy the ends of the table; while the inferior fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries, with preserves and dried fruits, fill the corners and sides of the table. A Savoy cake, on an elevated dish, is very proper for the centre; wafers, and any other cakes, may fill up any spaces in the length of the table. In the summer a China pail of ice is generally placed at each end of the table, and served out on glass plates before the wine is circulated. Sometimes Noyeau, Curacoa, Dantzic, Constantia, or some other liquor, is handed to the guests in small glasses, immediately after the ice has been served; the pails and glass plates are removed before the servants leave the room.
The decanted wines placed on the table during dinner are white wines; either madeira, sherry, or bucellus; those circulated after dinner are port, madeira, and claret. Claret is generally contained in a decanter with a handle, and of a peculiar form. Directions to the cook should always be closed with strict injunctions to be punctual to time, and to send everything, which is intended to be eaten hot, to table in proper season. Carelessness in these two particulars should not be passed over without reprimand; and if the fault be repeated, it might be as well to part with a servant, who has either undertaken a place without possessing for it sufficient qualifications, or who is indifferent to the comfort of her master and mistress, to whom it is a most disagreeable circumstance to be anticipating for a length of time the announcement of dinner, and when announced, to find everything either chilled or overdone.
The butler, or footman, should be furnished with a plan of the dinner, drawn out in an intelligible manner, so that he may know how to arrange the dishes on the table: for as much of the elegance of effect, which is always desirable on a dinner-table, is produced by this arrangement, it ought not to be trusted to the taste or judgment of a servant. The diagrams I now show you are specimens of the usual manner in which this is done:
The butler and footman should have everything in the neatest order, at the side-board and on the table; with a sufficient quantity of glasses, knives forks, spoons, &c. in the room. They should be quiet and rapid in their movements; observant in supplying changes of plates, and in attending to the demands of each guest. The courses should be quickly removed, but without bustle.
It is always proper, if no housekeeper or butler be kept, that the mistress of her family should give very minute directions to the footman, to prepare the plate the day before a dinner-party is to be given. Wax lights should be in readiness, and the lamps, particularly those not in common use, should be cleaned- and trimmed.
The table, which is to be used, must be so proportioned to the size of the party, as neither to inconvenience the guests, by over-crowding them, nor yet to admit of too much space, which has always an uncomfortable appearance. The glasses of every description should look clean and bright; and the water in the decanters should be clear, and without sediment. The wines, when not in charge of a butler, should be given out in good time, to be properly decanted and cooled.
I am afraid you will think that these directions are more minute than is requisite; but I know that many a young housekeeper has been amazed at the bustle and confusion apparent amongst her servants at the hour of dinner, and has been mortified at the difficulty of procuring what was required, without being aware, that, had she previously enforced regulations like these, she would have brought them into such habits of order and method, as would have enabled them to discharge their duties easily and quietly. When once good habits are formed in our servants, they will seldom require such minute attention; for perceiving the advantages they themselves derive from them, they will generally continue the practice of them. Such servants will, of their own accord, clean and put away into their proper places, all the various articles which belong to their different departments. Confusion and breakage will be thus avoided, and the ordinary business of the following day not much interrupted.
Mrs. L. — Your instructions bring to my recollection the lively and amusing description of a badly arranged and badly conducted dinner in one of Miss Edgeworth’s stories. Though the scene of that dinner is Dublin, it is not difficult to call to mind some very similar to it in England. The table groaning under the weight of luxuries; the domestics hurried and flurried; first at one end of the room, and then at another, without having much notion what to do with themselves; the lady hostess, with settled anxiety on her brow, directing the proper position of each dish, and apparently more solicitous for the perfection of the coup d’ceil of her table, than for the flavour of her viands; and when after calling, commanding, and exhorting in vain the poor servant to put into its proper place either the trifle or the custard, her emphatic and reproachful exclamation admirably closes the scene, “Oh! Larry! Larry!”
But when dinner is announced, what form then takes place?
Mrs. B. — When dinner is announced, the gentleman of the house selects the lady most distinguished by rank, or respectable by age; or the one who is the greatest stranger in the party, to lead to the dining-room, where he places her by himself. If her husband be of the party, he takes the lady of the house to her place at table, and seats himself beside her: the rest of the party follow in couples; and the hostess arranges them according to their rank, or according to what she imagines may be their expectations; always, however, placing the greatest strangers amongst the gentlemen near herself. This arrangement should be effected in an easy, gentle manner, and with as little form as possible.
The trouble of carving generally devolves on the gentlemen next to the lady. The gentlemen around the table are supposed to pay every attention to the ladies next to them; and it is the duty of the servants to hand round the fish and soup, which are presumed to be generally eaten. It is not, now, the fashion for the presiding lady to pay those very particular attentions to her guests, which formerly was a formidable task. In this point, however, some discrimination must be shown; too much attention has the appearance of effort, and annoys; too little may offend. The lady of the house should never be so much engaged with these attentions as to render her unable to listen to conversation, or to keep it alive: her aim should be to give it an easy transition from one topic to another; and to guard it from dwelling long on one which is not likely to excite general interest. In fact, a gentlewoman is known in her own house. She may pass unnoticed elsewhere, because there may be nothing striking in her appearance; but at home, and at her own table, she is instantly discovered. It is with her manners as with her dress; she does not follow fashion blindly and immoderately, but rather moulds it into the superior form of good-breeding. It is customary in some houses, which are regarded as fashionable, for the master and mistress to sit together at the head of the table, leaving the lower end in charge of a son, or some male relation or friend; but this custom has never been sanctioned by general usage, and is so objectionable, as far as regards the attention and comfort which every guest has a right to expect from his host, that it is not likely ever to prevail. It is true that bad health, advanced age, or accidental circumstances may place a gentleman as a guest at his own table, but when these do not exist, his appropriate situation is, certainly, at the lower end of the table. The same objections do not apply to a lady resigning her situation to the gentleman who would otherwise be placed at her right hand; because, if he is to carve, he can do so with more ease when situated at the head of the table, and the lady is left more free to distribute her attention and conversation to those who surround her. To a young woman in particular this is allowable; the graceful deportment of a lady at her own table, which is generally so pleasing to her husband, would be much diminished, if she were either obliged to carve, or her attention were directed too much to the supplying the plates of her visitors. Ladies, however, who have been married some years, generally prefer to carve for themselves; and, as habit has made them expert, they manage it without being too much engrossed by it.
Mrs. L. — Although carving may not be absolutely essential in a lady, do you not think it a desirable art for every one to acquire?
Mrs. B. — Certainly. Every lady should be able, when occasion calls for it, to carve without awkwardness, and should know what are considered the delicate parts of every dish that comes before her, that she may be able to point them out to others. When she herself carves, she has to set an example to her servants of neatness and care; for besides the disagreeable appearance of a badly carved dish, the waste that attends it is not inconsiderable, and it should be remembered, that when carelessness in this particular, or indeed in any other, characterizes the head of a family, the example spreads throughout every other branch of it.
Mrs. L. — Will you oblige me by specifying, more particularly, the parts which are considered as the most delicate of those dishes which are usually placed at the head of the table?
Mrs. B. — Of a turbot the thickest part is considered the best; but the fins are regarded as delicacies, and a small portion of them should be offered to everyone to whom the fish is sent. Those, however, who care less for appearance and fashion, and are acquainted with this fish, prefer the back or brown side; and it certainly has more flavour than the white side.
Of Salmon a portion both of the thick and the thin part should be given: but of Cod, the thin part not being generally reckoned the best, the thick white flakes, with the sound and the firm parts about the head, are the most esteemed. The middle part of Soles, Haddocks, large Whitings, and Trout, is the preferable part, but the tail end is the best part of Mackarel. A part of the roe or milt and liver, should be distributed to each plate; and in helping flaky fish, such as cod and haddock, care should be taken to lift the flakes from the bone without breaking them.
Though few joints are placed at the head of the table, still it is desirable that every lady should be able to carve them judiciously. In a breast of Veal, the best slices are to be had from the brisket; in a leg of Lamb, from the middle, between the knuckle and the thick end. In the Calf’s head, the fleshy glandular portion near the neck, is the best; whilst the eye, neatly taken out with the point of the carving knife, and the palate, are the most delicate parts.
The breasts, the wings, and the merry-thoughts of all kinds of poultry, and feathered game, are the most esteemed, with the exception of the Woodcock, the legs of which are preferred to any other part. The tip of the wing of the Partridge is a morsel highly prized by the epicure in eating.
Mrs. L. — Can a lady refuse to take wine with a gentleman when requested?
Mrs. B. — It is not the custom to refuse the request, nor is it considered polite; though I think it may be done, provided the manner in which it is done, be so tempered by politeness as to avoid the unpleasantness of offending.
Mrs. L. — What is your opinion with regard to the discontinuance of the old custom of drinking healths?
Mrs. B. — I think the total omission of the old custom not altogether defensible; for, although the routine of drinking healths by every individual is a formality which may be well dispensed with, yet I should prefer the ancient fashion to be preserved, as far as regards the friends at whose social board we are guests, and whose attentions seem to claim some acknowledgement and tribute of respect on our parts. There is in my mind an apparent heartlessness in the present fashion; and a little of that honest warmth which characterized the rude hospitality of our forefathers would not detract from the refinement of the present age, but would increase the pleasures of the social table. Toasts, on the contrary, are properly exploded; for they restrained the liberty of the guest, and forced him to take more wine than he might desire; and although few were ever given in the presence of the ladies, yet those that passed after they had retired, kept the gentlemen from the drawing-room in the evening, which you may think a sufficient reason why the female part of society should discountenance the drinking of toasts.
Mrs. L. — Will you permit me to say, that I think the ladies retire, in general, too soon from the dining-room. I have perceived the lady of the house, frequently, restless and uneasy, until she could find an opportunity of carrying off the female part of her visitors; and as every gentleman to whom I have spoken on this subject has condemned this fashion, I should wish to hear your opinion as to the time at which the withdrawing should take place.
Mrs. B. — The custom for the ladies to retire soon after dinner is the relic of a barbarous age, when the bottle circulated so freely, and toast upon toast succeeded each other so rapidly, that the gentlemen of a company soon became unfit to conduct themselves with the decorum essential in the presence of the female sex. But in the present age, when temperance is a striking feature in the character of a gentleman; and when delicacy of conduct towards the female sex has increased with the esteem in which they are now held, on account of then superior education and attainments, the early withdrawing of the ladies from the dining room is to be deprecated; as it prevents much conversation which might afford gratification and amusement, both to the ladies and the gentlemen. The truth of this remark is almost generally acknowledged in polite circles; and it is not, now, customary for the ladies to retire very soon after dinner. A lapse in the conversation will occasionally indicate a seasonable time for the change to take place.
I may take this opportunity of remarking, that servants should be instructed to attend to the drawing-room fire, and to prepare the lights after dinner. Prints, periodical works, or other publications of a light kind, ought to be dispersed about the room, and are sometimes useful to engage the attention, when anything like ennui is observable. Coffee should be brought up soon, and the gentlemen summoned.
Mrs. L. — It is not usual, I believe, for a lady to be in full dress when she entertains a party at dinner
Mrs. B. — The dress of a lady at dinner parties, should be plainer at home than abroad; otherwise a reflection might be implied on such of her guests whose dress is inferior; but, in evening parties, the lady of the house is generally full dressed.
Section Three: Evening Parties – Balls
Mrs. L. — You have obliged me very much by these useful directions for conducting of a dinner party. Will you now give me some instructions on the management of evening parties?
Mrs. B. — Evening parties have various denominations, but differ from each other rather in the amusements than in the manner of conducting them. They consist of balls, at which, you know, dancing alone is the amusement:—routs, which comprehend a crowd of- persons in full dress assembled to pay their respects to the lady of the house, and to converse, occasionally, with such of their acquaintance as they may chance to encounter in the throng: — conversaziones, in which, as the term implies, conversation has the lead; but the tedium which this might occasion to some of the guests, by its unvaried continuance, is prevented by the occasional introduction of music and dancing: and card parties, which should be composed solely of those who take an interest in the only amusement they afford.
Mrs. L. — How long before a ball is given should the invitations be issued?
Mrs. B. — A month at least, or even six weeks; and the invitation (printed from a copper-plate on cards) is usually either in this form, or in the one that follows:
As the company is generally numerous at balls, it is neither necessary, nor is it expected, to be so select as at smaller parties. On these occasions the rooms may be well filled, although too great a crowd should be avoided. The majority ought, of course, to be juvenile, and the number of gentlemen should be equal to, or even exceed, that of the ladies.
I need scarcely remind you of the great advantage of being beforehand, in all the necessary preparations for parties of every kind. Early in the day, the sofas, chairs, and tables should be removed, as well as every other piece of furniture which is likely either to be in the way or to be injured: forms should be placed around the walls of the room, as occupying less space than chairs, and accommodating more persons with seats. A ball room should be brilliantly lighted, and this is done in the best style by a chandelier suspended from the centre of the ceiling, which besides adds much to the elegant appearance of the room. Lustres placed on the mantlepiece, and branches on tripods in the corners of the room, are also extremely ornamental.
Mrs. L. — I hope you also recommend chalking the floor, which is not only very ornamental but useful, as I know by experience, in preventing those awkward and disagreeable accidents which a slippery floor inevitably occasions amongst the lively votaries of Terpsichore.
Mrs. B. — A chalked floor is useful too in disguising, for the time, an old or ill coloured floor, which would otherwise form a miserable contrast to the elegant chandeliers, and the well dressed belles and beaux. When the season will allow it, we must not forget to fill the fire-place with flowers and plants, which, indeed, form an appropriate and pleasing ornament on the landing-places, and in other parts of the house through which the guests may have to pass.
In consulting the beauty of the fair visitants, those flowers should be selected which reflect colours in harmony with the human complexion; as, for example, the Rose, the early white Azalea, the white and pink Hyacinth, and other flowers of similar tints. There should not be an over proportion of green; for, as this colour reflects the blue and yellow rays, it is by no means favourable to the female complexion; and still worse are yellow and orange coloured groups, whether of natural or artificial flowers. In some degree, however, the flowers should be chosen to harmonize also with the colour of the paper, or the walls of the ball-room.
The music should always be good, as much of the pleasure of dancing depends upon it. Violins, with harp and flute accompaniments, form the most agreeable band for dancing.
The lady of the house, who is expected to appear in rather conspicuous full dress, should be in readiness to receive her guests in good time; allowing herself a few minutes leisure to survey her rooms, to ascertain that every thing is in proper order, and nothing defective in any of her arrangements. The arrival of her guests will be between the hours of nine and twelve.
A retiring room should be in readiness for ladies who may wish to disburthen themselves of shawls and cloaks; and here a female should be in attendance to receive them, and to perform any little office of neatness which a lady’s dress may accidentally require. Tea and coffee may also be presented in this room, if any be deemed necessary; but of late the custom of introducing these refreshments at balls has been nearly abolished.
Three male servants, at least, are necessary, and as many more as the sphere of life of the individual who gives-the ball sanctions. One servant should attend at the door of the house; and receiving the names of the company as they arrive, he should transmit them to another, who should conduct the party into the anti-room, while he in turn communicates their arrival to a third at the drawing-room door, who should announce them to the lady of the house. Her station should be as near the entrance of the room as possible, that her friends may not have to search for her to whom, of course, they wish first to pay their respects, and from whom they expect their welcome. As soon as a sufficient number of dancers are arrived, the young people should be introduced to partners, that they may not, by any unreasonable delay of their expected amusement, lose their self-complacency, and cast the reflection of dulness on the party. When the lady of the house is a dancer, she generally commences the dance; but when this is not the case, her husband should lead out the greatest stranger, or person of highest rank present: and while one dance is proceeding, la Maitresse du bal, if a French term be allowable, should be preparing another set of dancers to take the place of those upon the floor, as soon as they have finished. Nothing displays more want of management and method, than a dead pause after a dance; while the lady, all confusion at so disagreeable a circumstance, is begging those to take their places who have perhaps never been introduced to partners. There should be no monopoly of this delightful recreation, but all the dancers in the party should enjoy it in regular succession.
Refreshments, such as ices, lemonade, negus, and small rout cakes, should be handed round between every two or three dances, unless a room be appropriated for such refreshments. Supper should be announced at half-past twelve or at one o’clock, never later: and each gentleman should then be requested to take charge of a lady to the supper-room. Both with regard to the pleasure of her company, and her own comfort, La Maitresse would do well to discountenance the habit, which is sometimes sanctioned, of the gentlemen remaining long in the supper room after the ladies have retired.
Mrs. L. — Indeed, I entirely agree with you in this opinion, for when the gentlemen remain in the supper room, it frequently causes a formal party of silent and listless fair ones, who seem to consider this temporary suspension of their amusement as an evil of sufficient magnitude to rob their countenances of the smiles of cheerfulness and good humour, which they had worn during the preceding part of the evening. As our gentle islanders lose half their charms when they lose their good-humour, it is charitable to them to prevent, if possible, this half hour of discomfiture. Of what, my dear madam, should a supper for such a party consist? Is it an expensive addition to the entertainment?
Mrs. B. —The variety of little delicacies of which suppers generally consist, makes them rather expensive. The table is usually crowded with dishes, which, however, contain nothing of a more solid nature than chickens, tongue, collared eels, prawns, lobsters, trifles, jellies, blanchmange, whips, fruit, ornamental confectionary, &c. French wines are frequently presented at suppers. As it would be scarcely possible to seat a very large party at once at a supper table, it is advisable to keep one part of the company dancing in the ball room, whilst another is at supper: and, even in this case, the gentlemen need not be seated, nor sup until the ladies have retired. Very little apparent exertion is necessary in the lady of the house, yet should she contrive to speak to most of her guests some time during the evening, and to the greatest strangers she should pay more marked attention.
Section Four: Evening Parties – Routs
Mrs. L. — What ceremonies are to be observed at routs?
Mrs. B. — The preparations for a rout, with the exception of lifting the carpet, chalking the floor, and providing music and a supper, are similar to those for a ball. The same announcements are requisite; the lady of the house is required to receive her guests in the same manner; and refreshments are to be provided in the waiting-room: but, farther, the assembled groups are left to amuse themselves, if amusement can be found in a crowd resembling that which fills the lobbies of a theatre on the first night of a new performance. To a person unacquainted with fashionable life, nothing can appear more extraordinary than the influence of fashion in these gregarious assemblies. The secret, however, is this : — few expect any gratification from the rout itself; but the whole pleasure consists in the anticipation of the following days’ gossip, which the faintings, tearing of dresses, and elbowings which have occurred, are likely to afford. To meet a fashionable friend next day in the park, without having been at Lady A —’s, would be sufficient to exclude the absentee from any claim to ton, while to have been squeezed into a corner with the Marchioness of B —, or the Duchess of C — is a most enviable event, and capable of affording conversation for at least ten days.
Section Five: Evening Parties – Conversaziones
Mrs. L. — Are conversaziones conducted in the same manner?
Mrs. B. — Not exactly. Conversaziones are more select meetings both in respect to the number and the characters of the individuals who are invited. To routs the invitations are general and unlimited; to conversaziones they are limited, and the individuals are, at least, supposed to possess a taste for information, whether obtained from books or from conversation.
This description of evening amusement is not, however, general, but is confined either to literary circles, or to those persons of rank and fortune who wish to patronize literature. When you wish to give a conversazione, the party should be selected with some care; and, although, persons of the same pursuits should be brought together, yet, individuals of the most opposite characters and acquirements should also be invited, to give variety and interest to the conversation, which is the object of the assembly. The tables should be spread with the newest publications, prints, and drawings: shells, fossils, and other natural productions should, also, be introduced to excite attention and promote remark.
Mrs. L. — This is a most rational species of entertainment. Why is it so little in fashion?
Mrs. B. — One cause of its rarity is the mania which prevails for music, without which no species of entertainment is regarded worthy of attention. This is a circumstance to be lamented, for nothing would contribute more to the general diffusion of information, and consequently to the improvement of society.
Section Six: Evening Parties – Card Parties
Mrs. L. — How are card parties conducted?
Mrs. B. — The invitations to these are similar to those issued for routs and balls, with the change of the word “quadrilles,” to “cards.” As many should be invited as will fill up a certain number of whist tables, with the addition of a loo or round table. Tea and coffee are handed to the guests on their arrival, and wine, cakes, and ices are handed round to the players at intervals during the evening. Each whist table should be furnished with at least two new packs of cards, differently coloured on the backs, besides counters for markers. The lady of the house generally fixes the value of the points, which determine the game; and she should, also, be prepared to change the players at table, as soon as the rubber is declared to be over. As all the company is not always engaged in play, the lady of the house, as well as her husband, should remain disengaged, to lead into conversation those who are strangers to one another, and to promote the general amusement of the guests.
Mrs. L.—According to your account, conversaziones and card parties may be united?
Mrs. B. — Certainly: and these are, perhaps, the most rational description of evening entertainments in the metropolis. The introduction of cards, takes off the air of pedantry which is supposed to pervade a pure conversazione, while the introduction of conversation at card parties, sets aside the character of gaming, which might be attached to a party met solely for the purposes of play. Many of our ablest men of science and in literature, are fond of a hand at whist, and would willingly go to such a mixed party, although they would hesitate to attend a party purely conversational, or convened solely for card playing.
Such are the forms of visiting in London and its immediate neighbourhood. Perhaps in other parts of the kingdom there may be, in some few particulars, a difference in form, but I do not apprehend that to be the case in any essential points. But it is now time to dress for dinner, and I am afraid this conversation is not closed before you are completely tired of its minuteness in detail.
9 Replies to “On Morning Calls and Hosting Dinner Parties, Balls and Routs in the Late Regency”
You have the best posts, bar none. I’m bookmarking this one.
Ooh, this is my favorite: “the whole pleasure consists in the anticipation of the following days’ gossip, which the faintings, tearing of dresses, and elbowings which have occurred”
How fun! Excellent post, Susanna!
@Ella – You can’t mean that! Your blog is pretty awesome, too. I read what you reposted on the side saddle. I meant to comment but the morning is flying by. Will do so this afternoon.
@Valerie – That’s my favorite part, too! Thanks for the kind words.
“but there are many productions from modern pens, the perusal of which, I think, will afford you little gratification, and the possession of which would do little credit to your taste. Of this kind is the Don Juan, and some of the other poems of Lord Byron.”
*laughs quietly behind fan*