Having a Tea in 1885

I’ve been reading Mrs. Dalloway at the rate of about fifteen pages a day. It’s all I can manage. The book reads like wonderful dark chocolate. It cannot be eaten quickly, but savored, and just a small bit satisfies. Two nights ago I finally reached the chapters of Mrs. Dalloway’s party.  I love how Virginia Woolf used her words and sentence structures to convey the motion and energy of the party. As the reader, you feel that you are in the middle of its whirl. Most of the characters, whom you have come to intimately know, are present. And you are a guest there like the others.

Yesterday afternoon as I was cleaning my desk, I came across some pages I had printed from Etiquette: What To Do, and How To Do It, by Lady Constance Eleanora C. Howard, and published in 1885.  I smiled as I read the pages, thinking of Mrs. Dalloway’s party. Although Lady Constance Howard goes into depth about the etiquette at balls, dinners, luncheons, etc., I opted to excerpt the pages on giving teas because I haven’t posted anything about teas before. I must admit, reading this description was rather stressful. I could never give an “At Home” for I would inadvertently insult all my acquaintances. Good heavens, I might use the wrong invitation format or introduce the wrong people or have my imaginary servants stationed in the wrong rooms. Teas are an etiquette minefield and not for the faint-hearted, casual hostess.

The images are taken from The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion, from 1881


‘Five-o’clock Tea’ makes an agreeable break between luncheon and dinner, and is welcomed by all, whether ladies who have been riding or walking, or just arrived from a journey, or by keen sportsmen after a day’s
shooting or hunting.

In many country houses it is the custom to have ‘School-room Tea,’ to which all the guests are bidden ; they come, or not, as it pleases them. In some houses, the hostess only receives a few intimate friends in her boudoir, but most generally tea is served in the drawing-room, or library, or hall, when the latter is arranged as a sitting-room—often the case both in London and the country.


The usual way is to have a low table covered with a pretty cloth embroidered with, say ‘poppies, wheat and cornflowers.’

On this should be placed the teapot, cream, and milk jugs, sugar and slop basins, cups and saucers, each having a teaspoon, and plates.

Another table has plates of brown and white bread, little cakes, scones or muffins, in the winter, and jam, honey or marmalade.

When guests are expected from a journey it is usual to add sandwiches of game or potted meat, and to have a tray with sherry, brandy, and seltzer on another table for those who prefer it to tea.

The hostess would pour out the tea, saying to each guest,—’ Do you take sugar?’ and ‘ Will you take cream or only milk?’

Then she hands the cups to the gentlemen, who, in their turn, hand them to the ladies who are sitting about the room in groups.

Conversation would be general at ‘ five-o’clock teas,’ as the number of guests does not generally admit of ‘tête-à-têtes.’

The gentlemen would hand the cakes, etc., to the ladies in the same way as the tea, saying,— ‘May I give you some cake or muffin?’ at the same time seeing that each lady had a plate. Plates should always be used at five-o’clock tea, just as much as they are at any other meal. There can be no possible reason why they should not be—people cannot put their cake or scone in their saucers, nor on the table, as that would be very vulgar—therefore plates are an imperative necessity; also slop basins, as no one likes the dregs of a previous cup of tea left in their cup if they wish to take a second.

Knives are only used for cutting a cake, not by each person, unless toast is provided, with butter, jam, honey, or marmalade, when they are necessary to spread these condiments.

Serviettes are never used at five-o’clock tea. Hot water to replenish the teapot should be sent up in an urn, a silver or china kettle, or a jug with a silver or plated top; it is sometimes put in a silver jug, but it is not a good plan as the water so soon gets cold in them. The teaspoons should if possible be silver, and sometimes teapot, sugar-basin, cream and milk jug, are in silver, as also the sugar-tongs; where this is too expensive, all china takes its place, in which the service is either all one pattern or else ‘harlequin.’

Scones, muffins, buttered toast should be served in dishes with covers to keep them hot.

Salt should always be sent up, as many people eat it with bread and butter, etc.—a small silver muffineer is best for it.

China or coloured Venetian glass dishes are best for butter, jam, etc.

Some people add mustard, cress and radishes, but this is not generally done.


The footman would place the tables in their proper places, cover them with the tea-cloths, and then carry in a tray with the various things needful.

The butler would place them on the tables, and then they would both leave the room, as it is not usual for servants to wait upon the guests at these meals; they wait upon each other, which is far less formal and much more agreeable.

Where no men-servants are kept, the parlour-maid would do exactly the same.

‘Five-o’clock tea’ in London is a very different thing. Ladies like it extremely; gentlemen, as a rule, detest it most cordially.

Generally say fifty ladies and five gentlemen is about the average at these assemblages, so that the ladies are all powerful, being in such an overwhelming majority.

The reason is this, ladies like them because at ‘five-o’clock teas ‘ they form new acquaintances, meet their favourite friends, make numerous plans for further meetings, and future interchange of civilities and entertainments; and, although as a rule few gentlemen put in an appearance at ‘five o’clock tea’ in London, considering this form of gathering too insipid; if they do honour it by their presence at rare intervals it is either because they want to meet a particular lady, or as a compliment to a popular hostess, one at whose house it is the correct thing to be seen, and where absence would proclaim that they were not on her list of friends and acquaintances. Yet, ladies are always ready, even in the middle of the rush of the London season, to look in at ‘five o’clock tea’ for twenty minutes or half-an-hour, if they cannot remain longer, in the course of their afternoon drive.

The refreshment of a cup of tea, whether in summer or winter, is at all times an agreeable and welcome one.

Invitations to ‘five-o’clock teas’ are either given verbally, by the intending hostess saying to any friend or acquaintance, lady or gentleman, whom she meets and wishes to invite,—

‘Will you come to me to-morrow, Mrs Green, at five o’clock, and have a cup of tea? You will find a few mutual friends.’

Or else invitations are issued on an ordinary visiting card, not on the cards used for ‘at homes’ or ‘ balls.’ The following is the correct form to use:—



the word ‘ music’ would be added if any, whether amateur or professional were to be provided, and the letters,’ R. S. V. P.,’ signifying ‘ Reponse s’il vous plait,’ or ‘an answer is requested,’ where one is wished for.

R. S. V. P.’ would be written on the right-hand corner of the invitation card, when such is the case, and where these letters are put, an immediate answer should be forwarded; at the same time it is unusual to require an answer, as it is generally of no consequence how many people avail themselves of such an invitation, or what numbers are conspicuous by their absence.

If, however, any of those invited are aware, when they receive the card, that it is quite certain they cannot accept the invitation, it would only be a mark of courtesy to send excuses at once.

Strict etiquette does not require this civility, but good-breeding and politeness, such as those ought to possess who go into society, would make it a matter of course.

‘Five-o’clock teas  may be classed under three distinct heads, as they are varied in the number of guests invited to them.

Both invitations and replies can be sent by post, or if a lady is out driving it is customary that if she needs an object for her afternoon drive, she should make a list of her proposed guests, and leave at any rate some of the cards herself.

Cards should be left by those who have been present within a week of the tea.

At ceremonious teas, it is usual to give a fortnight’s notice; for smaller ones the invitation should be sent out about a week before; for very small teas, a couple of days’ notice is sufficient.


Some ladies, for small teas, are at home a given day each week; for instance, all the Tuesdays in May, or all the Fridays in July.

This is a very good plan, as it admits of people choosing the week most convenient to them, so that if one Tuesday does not suit, the next or the one following may do so.

A ceremonious tea consists of from fifty to a hundred and fifty or two hundred guests; when this number have been invited, it is customary to provide some amusement for them, such as vocal or instrumental music, with amateur and professional performers; the music should be as good as possible, though not important enough to be actually a ‘ concert.’

The semi-ceremonious tea numbers forty to a hundred people, then recitations, good amateur talent, vocal or instrumental, is enough to amuse people and take off any formality and shyness. I think the most agreeable teas consist of ten to twenty-five people, who all are more or less acquainted, then general conversation or tête-à-tête chats take the place of music, or any other form of instructing and amusing people, intimate friends, not merely acquaintances, and comparative strangers, forming the majority of these ‘sans gêne’ gatherings.

It would not be etiquette to put ‘ five-o’clock tea’ on the card of invitation; if the hostess invited a guest personally, she would use the words ‘afternoon tea ;’ she would not say,’ Will you come to a kettledrum?’ that expression is obsolete; the correct term for ‘five-o’clock tea’ is ‘At Home,’ except when spoken of in conversation or verbally, then they would be mentioned, and allusion made to them as ‘five o’clock tea,’ just as a reception of a few friends after dinner is always called an ‘At Home’; never should ‘evening party’ be printed or written on the card of invitation; society recognises no such sentence with regard to the invitation to such an entertainment, although in talking to a friend it would be correct to say,—’ I am going to a party at the Duke of B.’s to-night,’ never, ‘I am going to an At Home at H— House.’

Terms correct in conversation would be incorrect, pedantic, and show ignorance in the matter of a written or printed invitation.

The name of the host does not appear on the invitations to ‘At Homes’ or ‘ five-o’clock teas.’ The name of the hostess only, not the united names of the host and hostess, appears upon the cards.

In sending an invitation, the hostess would include the husband of her guest in the invitation as follows :—’ Mr and Mrs de L’Isle ‘ would be written at the right-hand corner of the visitingcard; where it is a father and daughter,—’ Colonel and Miss or the Misses F.’

The sons in a family would receive separate cards of invitation; thus, ‘Lord G.,’ or ‘The Hon. B. Turner;’ and where there is a whole family to be invited, it would be ‘The Duke and Duchess of C, and Lady D. M.,’ or the ‘Ladies M.’

If only a mother and daughter, or daughters, ‘Lady C. and Miss C.,’ or the ‘ Misses C.,’ if the wife of a baronet or knight; if a Marchioness, it would be ‘The Marchioness of W. and Lady C. H.,’ or the ‘Ladies H.;’ a Countess, the correct term is, ‘The Countess of G. and Lady H. R.,’ or ‘Ladies R. ;’ a Viscountess, ‘The Viscountess L. and Honourable Mary B.,’ or ‘Honourable Misses B.;’ the same for a Baroness when she is a Peeress in her own right, such as Baroness Burdett Coutts, Baroness Berners, Baroness Bolsover, etc. ; when such is not the case, it would be ‘Lady F. and Honourable E. V.,’ or ‘Honourable Misses D.,’ unless there were only one daughter, when it would be ‘Honourable Miss D.’

Titles are recognised on invitation cards, but complimentary denominations, such as K.C.B., K.T., etc., are only written on the envelopes in which the cards are sent, not on the cards themselves.


Cloak-rooms are only necessary at very large formal teas, when the dress of the ladies is more magnificent, and probably a long velvet coat in winter, or a light dolman in summer, is thrown over the wearer’s dress in the carriage, which she is glad to lay aside while having her tea. At small teas it is not necessary, as rooms are less hot and more empty, and the dresses of a more simple description.

The hats, sticks or umbrellas, and overcoats of the gentlemen, at small or large teas, are always left in the hall, when a servant takes charge of them until they leave.

When those who have been invited arrive, they walk straight into the house, without asking is ‘Lady B. at home?’ as they know that such is the case.

Except at large teas, when the names of those present appear in the Morning Post next day, it is not correct for a lady’s servant to give her name to the servant who answers the door, and the house door should be left open until all the guests have arrived, or each person would have to ring the bell. The only time when it is allowable to station a servant on the steps, who rings as each guest arrives, and says, ‘Coming in,’ is in winter, when an open door for so long a time would make the house cold, and be disagreeable to those already assembled.

Red cloth is never put down at any party, whether ball, concert, theatricals, at home, five-o’clock tea, except when Royalty is present.

An awning should always be provided, whether it is an afternoon gathering or an evening party, as a protection against bad weather.

When visitors are ready to leave, they give their names to the servant, who stands by the door in readiness, he passes it to the lady’s footman (if she has one), who departs in search of her carriage, and announces it when it comes up; or when there is no footman, the linkman shouts out the name, and calls it out on the arrival of the carriage.

At ‘teas’ and ‘at homes’ the hostess does not ring for the door to be opened for the guest who is leaving, or for the carriage to be called, but the guests descend into the hall, where the servants of the house call the carriages as they are requested to do so by those present.

Owing to the short time that ladies, as a rule, remain at ‘five-o’clock teas,’ carriages should always be kept ‘waiting ;’ and those invited to the tea remain in the dining-room, taking refreshment, or stand in the hall alone, or chatting to their friends and acquaintances until they hear their carriage announced.


If a gentleman were present when a lady was waiting for her carriage with whom she was acquainted, he would politely offer her his arm and conduct her down the steps to her carriage; he would assist her to get in, and if he knew her well he would shake hands with her; if he was merely an acquaintance of recent date, he would make her a low bow only, as the carriage drives off, not offering to shake hands unless the lady showed a wish to do so.

Refreshments at ceremonious teas are always served in the dining-room, and a long buffet is placed at one end of the room, behind which stands the lady’s maid, etc., who pour out the cups of tea and coffee, and hand them across the table to those who ask for them, replenishing the cups when necessary.

The lady’s maid is always present on these occasions, as well as the Butler and footman; the Butler sees that the gentlemen have claret cup, wine, etc

The tea and coffee should be in silver urns, and the buffet prettily decorated with the flowers that are in season, fancy biscuits, brown and white bread and butter cut very thin, plum, seed and pound cakes, and macaroons and sponge cakes are placed upon the buffet, while sherry, champagne, and claret cup, lemonade, ices, fruit, potted game, sandwiches, and in the summer, china bowls heaped with strawberries, and dishes of whipt cream, and in the winter ‘maroons glacés’ are all placed upon the centre table.

Plates are always provided—ice plates for the ices, ‘which should be both cream and water with waifers,’ and small plates for fruit, with a place for the pounded sugar.

Tea in the dining-room, whether the party is large or small, is the most convenient; it saves carrying all the necessary paraphernalia upstairs. If the number of guests is very small, it might look unsociable to assemble in the dining-room, as it would leave the hostess alone, she not being able to quit her post until the majority of the guests had arrived.

Therefore, at very small and intimate teas, the refreshments are served in a small boudoir, or ante-room, or where there are two drawing-rooms in the inner one of the two.


The refreshments are of the same character as at the ceremonious parties, but on a much more pretentious scale; teapots are used instead of urns; fruit and ices are not provided. The hostess pours out the tea and coffee, assisted by her daughter or daughters if she has any, and the gentlemen present hand the cups and the cakes, etc., to the rest of the ladies, and then help themselves to wine, or cup, as they may wish. At teas served in the drawing-room, the lady’s maid and butler are not present. At formal teas, the servants or the maid on the arrival of each guest would inquire if they would take tea or coffee, and if they wish for either, would show them into the dining-room, where the guests would partake of refreshments, and then the servants would usher them into the drawing-room.

It is more courteous to proceed upstairs immediately on arrival, and to take tea or coffee after you have made your bow to your hostess.

The servant precedes the guests up the stairs.

At large teas, the hostess receives her friends at the drawing-room door, or on the landing; she shakes hands with each guest on arrival, whether she is previously acquainted with them or not, or in the case where a friend has asked her for an invitation for some lady or gentleman who is anxious to be present at her party.

She stands just in the doorway, the door remaining open all the time, the contrary being the case at small teas, when the hostess receives her friends within the room, advancing a few steps to meet each new arrival.

Unless a hostess is lame or very old, etiquette requires that she should move about the room among her guests, and see that they have someone to talk to, that they have tea, etc., talking with each person for a few minutes.

Her daughter or daughters would help her in like manner; no hostess would remain seated in one particular seat all the time, unless she was too lame or infirm to move about.

It is etiquette for ladies to move about the rooms at afternoon teas, and speak to their particular friends and acquaintances; there is no necessity for them to remain transfixed to one spot, unless they wish to do so, or the conversation they are engaged in is very absorbing.

Those ladies who are already acquainted would take this opportunity of speaking and making some polite or necessary remarks, but general introductions at ‘five-o’clock teas ‘ are not usual, only occasional ones, where the hostess thinks that two people would value such an introduction when they are likely to appreciate such an acquaintance, where the acquaintance has been desired by the lady, or by both, or some reason of similar importance.

In a formal, or semi-formal manner, the hostess, if she judged it wise to do so, would introduce some of the ladies present to each other, but she would never do so unless she was quite certain beforehand that they would have no objection to the introduction.

Then she would say, with a view to drawing the ladies into conversation, ‘Lady Z., I don’t think you know Lady L.,’ when the ladies would acknowledge the introduction by a bow; or,’ Mrs V. and I were talking about the first night of Romeo and Juliet, are you going to it, Mrs D.?’ In the same way, the hostess, if she saw Mrs D. knew no one of the gentlemen present, she would say, ‘May I introduce Lord N. to you, Mrs D. ?’ at the same moment bringing him with her to the lady she addressed, who would smile and bow. Lord N. would then say, ‘Will you let me get you some tea?’ he would not say ‘May I get you some refreshments?’ that would be very vulgar indeed, and if Mrs D. consented, Lord N. would offer her his right arm, and would conduct her to where the tea was served.


The hostess would be very particular that the ladies of highest position present were escorted to tea in the intervals between music, singing, conjuring, recitations, or whatever amusements she had provided for their benefit and amusement, and would introduce gentlemen to them, if there was no one by at the moment that they were acquainted with, that they might then show them this politeness of society.

The host, if there is one, would take the ladies of highest rank to tea.

All the gentlemen are expected to be constantly escorting ladies to tea, so they do not remain in the dining-room many minutes, therefore seats as a rule are not provided, as they remain there so very short a time; gentlemen conduct the ladies back to the drawing-room when they have finished their tea, as it would be a great incivility on the part of a gentleman were he to leave the lady alone in the dining-room, or let her find her way upstairs without his escort.

Having found her a seat, he would make her a polite bow, and proceed to escort someone else to tea. Should, however, the lady not wish to return to the drawing-room, the gentleman would remain talking to her until her carriage was announced, when he would escort her to it.

Several ladies would, at the suggestion of the hostess, go to tea together, when the gentlemen were in the minority; their hostess would say a few words of civil excuse for their absence.

Punctuality is not necessary at ‘five-o’clock teas,’ the hour named allowing the guests to come when they like, and leave when it pleases them—some stay a long time, others only a few moments; it entirely depends upon their inclinations and motives for being there. Few, if any, remain the whole three or three hours and a-half specified on the invitation card. Sometimes the latest arrival stay the shortest time; at others, the earliest leave after a few minutes, from five to six being the most popular hours for arriving. People going on to other ‘teas’ in the same afternoon, as often happens, would either come earlier or later than these hours to allow of fulfilling both engagements.

Gentlemen generally stand about the room talking to the ladies at these parties when taking tea or wine, etc.

If a gentleman saw a lady with an empty cup in her hand, he would politely put it down for her, otherwise the lady would place it on any table near to her.

Cream and sugar are handed to each guest by the gentlemen, as a matter of course. It would not be etiquette for the hostess to inquire if her guests take them; ladies would ask for a second cup of tea if they were thirsty, but it would be against etiquette, and look peculiar, if they did not take tea or coffee, and asked for chocolate, milk and soda, cocoa, hot milk, cider, or some beverage not usually served at tea.

If they did not like the refreshment provided, without entering into any explanations they would simply say, ‘No tea ; thank you very much.’

A lady intending to eat ices, cake, bread and butter, fruit or sandwiches, would take off her gloves, but not if she simply had tea or coffee without eating anything.

Etiquette does not make it imperative that guests should take leave of their host and hostess at ‘five-o’clock teas,’ unless it were late, and few people were left, in which case these guests would, as politeness required, make their adieus to their hostess, and if it were their first visit to the house, or the hostess were a recent acquaintance, or happened to be talking to a guest on the landing, standing in the doorway, or coming back to the drawing-room from tea, then etiquette requires that the guest who was leaving should take his leave of her, with a few civil words of thanks.

Except on these occasions it is not usual to do so.

Conversation, when there is ‘music or singing’ at afternoon teas, should be indulged in in a low tone, so as not to disturb or annoy those who are doing their best to amuse the guests, at least guests should try and look as if they were listening to the performance, even if they are not ardent votaries of music.

No gratuities at this or any other entertainment to be given to the servants.


A Polite Lady in 1798

My Dearest Daughter Sophia,

Please attend to my little lesson in snobbery. I assure you that my motivations come from no improper pride on my part. And dearest, you know how much I love commas. I couldn’t help but sprinkle my letter with hundreds of the darling things.

I hope you are enjoying the boarding school that I tucked you away in. Don’t forget to disdain your classmates of lower rank.

All the best,
Your bitchy mother.

P.S. I have compiled all our letters into this volume The Polite Lady; or, A course of Female Education: In A  Series Of Letters, From A Mother To Her Daughter, 

P.P.S.  I’ve included fashions from La Belle Assemblee in 1811 because I was too lazy to search for fashions from 1798, and I had put off exercising for too long. Also, my dearest Sophia, please don’t make it known that I am your mother if you choose to wear that dreadful outfit with the green ribbon coiled about it.

But, my dear, where it possible for you to contract a friendship with persons of too high or low station, yet it is a thing which you ought to carefully to avoid; as it might, and very probably would, be attended with bad consequences. In the one case, you would be in danger of having your head filled with a thousand notions, which how proper soever they may be for a lady of the first quality, or altogether inconsistent with your rank. What in her would be deemed excusable, decent, or even praiseworthy, in  you would be condemned as ridiculous, foolish, or, perhaps, criminal. When she goes to walk or visit she may have a couple of footmen to attend to her. She may go to the play, or any other public entertainment, every evening if she pleases, or at least as often as she thinks proper. She may throw away eight or ten guineas upon a headdress that happens to hit her fancy. She may subscribe an annual sum to any charitable institution. For the last action all the world would place her, and for the former ones no sensible person could blame her, as she acts in character and has a fortune equal to her expenses.


But, my dear, were you to behave in this manner, what a different opinion, do you imagine, would people in entertain of you? Why, some would suspect you were abandoned; others would think you were mad; and all would agree you were foolish. Your friends would be sorry; your enemies rejoice; and the rest of the world would be an object of ridicule and derision. Besides, to cultivate a friendship with such as are raised above us in rank of fortune, has a natural tendency to inspire us at once with pride and meanness of spirit; two voices of widely different, that they could hardly be supposed to reside in the same person. Of those who keep company with none but their bettors, it is generally, and, I believe, justly observed that they treat their superiors with servility and flattery, their equals with indifference, their inferiors with contempt and disdain. But they are commonly repaid in their own coin: for the consequence of this behavior is, that their inferiors hate them, equals despise them, their superiors laugh at them, when their backs are turned. In a word, you may, if you will, be the humble creature, the mean dependent; you can never be the true, the bosom-friend of a lady of the first quality.

LBA1811-1Nor would there be less danger, my dear, in the other case; I mean, in contracting a friendship with the person greatly beneath you and family and fortune. Your mind would be debased by her low conversation; your pride would be inflamed by her servile and cringing behavior: for such only could you expect from her. As she courts you, not for your personal merit, but for your rank, your wealth and interest, she would take care never to forfeit your good graces by  doing any disagreeable action, or telling any unpleasing truth, how much sorever the doing the one, or telling the other, might be your real interest and advantage. Your fault she would either conceal or extenuate; your virtues she would magnify and exaggerate; nay, perhaps praise you for virtues you’ve never possessed. She might, indeed, be your flattering sycophant , but she would not possibly be your faithful friend, one of whole principal duties is it is to inform you of your faults, and to assist you in correcting them. But my dear, not only is our pride increased by cultivating a friendship with persons of low life; what is more, the very odd for me such a friendship is a certain proof of our original pride and vanity: for if we had not naturally proud, we would never

This is the dress I’m talking about, Sophia.

But my dear, not only is our pride increased by cultivating a friendship with persons of low life; what is more, the very act of forming such a friendship is a certain proof of our original pride and vanity: for if we had not been naturally proud, we  never would have formed it. This, you will imagine, is a very strange way of thinking. What! Can it ever be a sign of pride and vanity to cultivate a friendship with our inferiors? Is it not rather a mark of humility and condescention? Such, my dear, will be your opinion; and such, I believe, is the opinion of half the world: but either they or  I must be mistaken, or it is a very false opinion. For where is the humility in keeping company with those who are perpetually flattering us; who, we are sure, will never venture to contradict us, but will command and applaud everything we say or do, however foolish or ridiculous? Is this be humility, ’tis a very strange kind of it, and quite above my comprehension. The truth is, persons of this character are, of all others, the most proud, vain, and conceited. They don’t like the company of their superiors because they scorn to fawn or flatter; they don’t like the company of their equals because they cannot bear the contradiction: and, therefore, they fly to the company of their inferiors, with they are free from contradiction; and, instead of offering, are sure of receiving the  incense of flattery and adulation.

LBA1811-3Of this kind of pride (for,  it must be confess, it has something very particular about it ) Lady Lembton is a very remarkable instance. I went to visit her at few days ago, and found her surrounded with a large company of ladies who, in every thing but sense, were certainly her inferiors. What the subject of conversation was before I entered, I know not; but the usual compliments were hardly over, when she took occasion to commend her daughter, who is settled at a country boarding school, for her great improvement in writing; and, as a specimen of her abilities, produced a letter she had lately received from her. All the rest of the company agreed in praising it, though one half of them had not so much as seen it: –there was flattery for you with a witness. ButI, who scorn to flatter any one, took the freedom to observe, thatI thought it was a very indifferent, and that my Sophy, though younger, could write much better; and is a proof, shewed them a letter of yours, which I happened to have in my pocket. Upon a comparison they could not refuse giving the preference to you, though with the apparent reluctance. After this, Lady Lambton was extremely grave and demure, and this rest looked very silly and foolish. In any other company I would have not have behaved in this manner; it would have been ill manners; but for such a conceited fool, and a parcel of such servile flatterers, deserved no better treatment. Her vanity and their meanness of spirit were equally the object of contempt and disdain.





Tales of Feminine Travelers from 1906


Summer vacation is coming, ladies! Have you wired ahead to the hotels where you’ll be staying?  Do you know how to pack your hats properly?  What are you going to wear in the sleeper car?  How will you handle unwanted male attention on a train?

Are you as clueless on these matters as I am?

Thank goodness for the exceedingly well-mannered and somewhat snobbish Isabel Curtis. She has all the answers in her article “Tales of Feminine Travelers Who Have Learned to Journey Safely and Happily Without Male Escort”, published in the June 1906 volume of Good Housekeeping.  I’ve excerpt the most relevant passages below.


For two hours, one night. I listened while the Travelers talked. The Travelers were a group of ladies’ maids: intelligent, well-bred, young women gathered together in Miranda’s pleasant room, at a big hotel in New York. A lady’s maid is of the class one meets so seldom—except in a novel or the stage—that I was glad to know them in real life. Miranda was responsible, I suppose, for an all-evening theme by telling what a queer reception Lady Chesterton had in New York.

“My lady.” said Miranda, “came across on a line which lands in Boston. Her luggage was labeled ‘Miss Chesterton‘. She hates the fuss that is made over anybody who brings a title to America. Before going to visit some old friends she wanted to rest, so after a few hours in Boston we took the train for New York. We arrived here late at night and drove to a hotel, which some English friends had recommended to my lady. The clerk said there was not an empty room. We got the same answer at the next hotel. It was nearly midnight when we made our third stop, here. Again there was no room. While we stood by the desk in perplexity, a lady and gentleman passed us, called for a room and got one. My lady turned back for a talk with the clerk who became perfectly honest with her. He told her there were rooms enough, but women arriving in the evening without an escort could not be given accommodations. The same rule exists, so he told us, in every reputable hotel.”


“Lady Chesterton did not feel that way about it.” continued Miranda. “She approved of the idea, but it was midnight and where were we to go? She told the clerk of her quandary and gave her name, though she did not wish to register under it. After a brief glance at my lady’s letters to her banker we were accommodated and provided with every comfort. One thing the clerk told us about traveling in America my lady will put into practice before our journey to San Francisco; she will write ahead and secure rooms at hotels wherever we are to stop.”

“Talk of traveling with no man along.” sighed Felice, a chatty French maid. “That an episode my lady and I had last night! 1 went with her to the theater—ah, what a stupid play!” The girl threw out her hands tragically. “‘Felice.’ said my lady, ‘let us have something to eat and forget it. There is the rathskeller where my husband and I go after the play. Such good things to eat and such music! It was a heavenly place, but what a crowd! We walked to the end of the room before we found a table. ‘We will have lobster a la Newberg began my lady, ‘with some little—‘ ‘Pardon, madame,’ I interrupted, ‘but for what do they take us?’

wt7“One waiter had beckoned to another, they stood staring at us, then hurried away for the head waiter. Oh, he was polite. ‘When does your escort arrive?’ he asked with his beautiful smile. ‘Escort?’ repeated my lady. ‘Your father, husband, brother?’ ‘We have no gentleman coming to join us.’ He grew more polite, more smiling. ‘I am sorry, indeed, but this table is engaged.’ ‘Of course it is engaged,’ said my lady haughtily; ‘please send a waiter at once to take my order.’ But she did not have her little supper at the rathskeller. That head waiter told us very confidential—we could not eat there unless a gentleman was with us. So, all down that long room we had to walk, everybody watching us and wondering, I suppose, ‘Who are these terrible people, -—thieves or what?’”

“Such experiences,” said Martha, a plain-looking New England girl, “are valuable lessons for the women who travel. My mistress has had difficulties; she did not resent them, however. She feels that any house which opens its doors to the public has to guard itself against queer people, even if it sometimes turns down respectable ones. So she wires ahead to a number of hotels, wherever she is to stop—any hotel in your own town will give you a list of them. She learns about prices, accommodations, the distance from a railroad station, so she knows whether she has to take a carriage or not. She asks for menus, if the place is run on European style, then she has a fair idea of what living there will cost.”

“Are you girls on the go all the time?” I asked curiously.

“I am, for at least eight months of the year,” said Emily, a dainty little creature who was busily mending a lace flounce. “My mistress is Miss Marlitt, the actress. Travel with her is not the weariness it is in some positions because she has reduced packing to a science. Every bit of baggage she owns either for the hotel or the theater is a thing of such neatness and convenience that ‘living in a trunk,’ as we say, is as easy as if one were at home. I cannot afford many of the small contrivances Miss Marlitt owns, but I have adopted some of them to make travel easier for myself.”

“Tell us of them,” begged Miranda.

“Well, there is my little scheme for carrying hats. I punch two holes, an inch apart, in the lid of the top tray of my trunk and run in a yard of tape. Over this I lay my hat, top up, filled with any light-weight articles. I stick a long hat pin through it, as if I were putting it on my head, then over and over the hat pin I wind the tape, which ties securely on the other side of the lid. This draws the hat brim down tight. Around the crown and trimmings, I tuck other light articles, or tissue paper, which we use by the ream.”

“What do you do with so much tissue paper?” queried Annette.

“I crumple sheet after sheet of it and stuff the puffy sleeves of nice gowns, I wind it in twists about flowers and ribbons on hats and build little fences around perky bows or dress trimmings which do not stand crushing. Then my plan for carrying liquids defies the most violent baggage-smasher. When every bottle is corked securely, I set it in a square tin box, fill in between with clean, sawdust and lock it. All that is necessary when repacking is to empty the sawdust on a paper and pour it again around the bottles. When I go from the sleeping car to the dressing room I carry a linen affair which looks like a strapped music roll. Inside are numerous little pockets, one row lined with silk rubber holds a washrag. Tooth brush, sponge, and nail brush. In the others are tooth powder, a buttonhook, pins, brush and comb, my belt and collar, any small bits of jewelry, hairpins, a housewife with needles, thread, scissors, a thimble, hooks and eyes, and tape. A loop at the top hangs it up and as every pocket is labeled, dressing is a quick job.”

“I wish I might have my turn at the dressing room after you,” said Felice. “Ah, women are so mean, so slow, so don’t-care! One morning when we were getting into Chicago, we waited half an hour for a—person to let us have our turn. A line of other women were waiting; some of them rapped at the door, some of them said things. At last somebody went for the conductor. He made the person open the door. Her hair was dressed as if she were going to a party, she was rouged, powdered, manicured, perfumed, hatted and veiled and she smiled so triumphant! I had to brush my lady’s hair while she sat in her berth, and our faces, we could not wash them till we got to our hotel.”


 “Another thing.” continued Emily, “that women ought to know is that it is a conductor’s duty to hear the appeal of any woman who has the un— welcome attentions of a man thrust upon her. ‘I have in mind,’ said my brother. ‘one man who boards my train three times a week. He is rich, well dressed, good-looking and holds a fine position in his own town. He walks past seats occupied by a homely woman or in which a man is lounging till he finds a pretty girl. Then politely enough he takes his place beside her. A refined woman is so afraid of making a scene she would rather endure any unpleasantness than call the conductor. Women ought to complain in such cases. It can be done so quietly that even the passenger in the next seat need not know what is happening. It means not only protection for one woman but for others. One experience of that sort would make such a man wary in the future. I keep an eye on young girls who are traveling alone. More than once in the midst of a flirtation with some man who is not fit to speak to her, I have escorted a pretty child to the Pullman and given her a bit of fatherly advice. But I would say to mothers if it is necessary, send your ten year-old daughter across the continent in the care of conductors and a kindly public—she is safe; but when she is eighteen. pretty, a bit headstrong, perhaps, and innocently fond of admiration and attention, don‘t send her on a hundred mile journey alone.’

“There is not a doubt of it,” cried Martha, heartily. “Dear me! how some women do dress when they travel! They fairly outrage every law of good breeding. I wish you could have seen a vision that flounced through our car the other morning. Her blonde hair was in a wild frowzle, she wore a billowy wrapper of baby blue silk fluttering with frills, ribbons and laces, while she fairly blazed with diamonds. I’m glad Miranda was not there, she would have classified her as a wild American.”

Miranda’s handsome face flushed. “I am guilty already of thinking that some American women do dress queerly when they travel, although,” she added hastily, “you would see plenty of such display in England and the Continent. You can always pick out the real aristocrat there by the plainness of her clothes when she travels. She wears, as Lady Chesterton does, a simple walking suit with a dark silk waist which sheds dust, a long traveling coat and a plain hat with very little trimming on it. A wrapper of soft black silk and black bed slippers are all that is necessary for the sleeping car. Jewels and filmy negligees she reserves for home wear, her elaborate gowns for carriage drives and garden parties.


“’You know dogs are forbidden on this road,’ he [the conductor] said sternly. “It goes in the baggage car and you pay half fare for it.’


“Do tell me then how to care for children when traveling,” cried Annette.

“Get acquainted with them before they start and discover what they like to do,” said Martha. “I once brought five motherless little ones from Oklahoma to Maine, and there never was a fretful, uncomfortable half-hour. We secured the end of the Pullman and in my grip I had stowed away hooks, paper dollies and doll house furniture, games, a scrapbook with pictures ready to cut out and paste, beads to string and for the elder girls dolls’ clothes ready to sew. When we got on the cars I took off the children’s traveling clothes and put each one in a soft, thin play frock with round neck and short sleeves. I had a roll of old linen cut in squares and a pint bottle filled with suds from good toilet soap. A few drops of this added to a cup of cold water cleansed smutty faces or grimy hands, then the soiled washrag was tossed from the window. The children had their dining car meals at the same hours they would have eaten at home and they had the wholesome food to which they were accustomed. There was no candy or cookies between meals, only an occasional drink of cool milk or filtered water from the dining car, for I have a horror of the beverage served from a railroad ice water tank. At 3 o’clock, the three little ones were laid on a rug on the floor with comfortable pillows under their heads and the shades down to shut out the sun. While they napped I read a story to the elder ones. Before 8 they were all in bed and at once dropped off to sleep without the least trouble.

When the conductor assured us we had ten minutes to spare, I took the youngsters for a breath of fresh air and to stretch their legs, whether it was on the platform of a busy depot or on the green prairie by a water tank.”

“Did you have a plentiful supply of eyestones along?” asked Emily.

“Better than that,” said Martha, “I had a tiny camel’s hair brush, which will remove a railroad cinder in a second. Ah, I must not forget the aid I had from the children‘s aunt. She dropped a bundle in my grip just before we started. It held a bunch of envelopes, one was to be given each child at a certain hour every day. Sometimes the envelope held some nonsense rhymes that we all laughed over, or a Japanese butterfly which was wound up until its wings were in tatters, a paper ball. a tiny mirror to flash reflections, puzzles or conundrums with their answers in the next envelope, funny pictures, pencils and paper, stories out from magazines or postals of scenery we had to pass.”

A little advertising…




The Proper Gentleman Cyclist – Bicycle Etiquette from 1896

I must warn my gentle readers that in this post “we are not dealing with the new woman…we prefer the good, old-fashioned kind, the gentle woman, in fact, although we have mounted her upon a pair of wheels. She has broadened her intellect, but we want the same sweet, coquettish feminine woman just the same.”

That’s right, because “it is not customary at this period of the nineteenth century to indulge in the ceremonious chivalry of the knights of old, but the attitude of a gentleman toward a lady is still founded upon the same old-fashioned notions. Let the new woman prate as much as she please about her independence of man, but she is the first, nevertheless, to rise up in indignation if any of the same old time chivalry is omitted…Therefore, the man will do all in his power to make the ride pleasurable for the lady.”

And we all know every sweet, coquettish lady loves a pleasurable ride! So, thank heavens for John Wesley Hanson’s Etiquette and Bicycling for 1896! Ladies, I’m sure after reading this excerpt, you’ll want to grab your bike (and your chaperone) and run over some chivalrous gentleman cyclist.


It is not strictly correct for a young lady to ride unaccompanied. There appears to be a growing tendency among people of refinement in this country to be more rigid in the matter of chaperones, although as yet we can hardly be said to have approached the strict rules of the French, who do not allow a young woman to cross the street, to say nothing of shopping or calling, without being accompanied by a woman of mature years.

The unmarried woman who cycles must be chaperoned by a married woman, but as ever one rides nowadays, this is an affair easily managed. Neither must the married woman ride alone. If unable to provide herself with a male escort, she must be followed by a groom or a maid. In this latter connection a woman is very fortunate if among her men or women servants one knows how to ride a bicycle. Women occasionally go to the expense of having a servant trained in the art.

In mounting, a gentleman who is accompanying a lady holds her wheel. She stands on the left side of the machine and puts her right foot across the frame of the right pedal, which at the time must be up. Pushing the right pedal causes the machine to move and then with the left foot in place, the rider starts, slowly at first, in order to give her cavalier time to mount his wheel, which he is expected to do in the briefest time possible. When the end of the ride is reached the man quickly dismounts and is at his companion’s side to assist her, she in the meantime assisting herself as much as possible.

A few hints…

Never pass by an accident without dismounting and inquiring what the trouble is, whether you can be of assistance; but bear in mind that any service you may render to a wheelwoman does not entitle you to her acquaintance without the usual form of introduction. It is always proper to speak to a wheelwoman who may be in need of assistance— humanity requires it.

Of course a gentleman will always remove his cap when making inquiries of a woman in reference to repairs or assistance if she is not one of his own party. Do not hesitate to leave your party temporarily to give assistance to a man or woman rider who really needs it. In following a path where there is not room for two abreast, let the woman go first, and be on the alert to dismount at a moment’s notice to help her in case of trouble. If a man were to go first on a bad road he might get a long way ahead of his companion without knowing that she was in distress.

A man always rides on the left side of a woman, because he can then have his right arm ready to give assistance. When riding in single file, a good distance should always be kept between riders, in order that those riding behind will not be upset in case of accidents to one in front. It is an imperative rule of good behavior that all women, handsome or otherwise, should receive the same attention; the latter are more than appreciative, and this fact is some recompense to a man doing his duty.

When coming up behind a rider going at a slower pace you should ring your bell until an answer is received, then swing off to the left. The rider in the lead will turn his wheel slightly to the right when he hears your signal to pass.

When riding past a vehicle going in the same direction always ring your bell. It is not good form to ring too frequently or too violently, except when exigencies of the case require it. To use a shrill whistle or a calliope is bad form at any time and indicates the novice.
When coming up behind a rider if you notice that his or her hind tire is flat, do not fail to call attention to the fact; it is a point of courtesy that is especially appreciated. It may happen when you go to the assistance of a woman rider who has had an accident you will have to take her wheel some distance to be repaired; it is then well to leave your wheel with her.

Always preserve your dignity and pay no attention to small boys or dogs, both of which are perfectly harmless to the average wheelman. Fancy and trick riding are not proper on the road; that sort of thing should be confined to the academy and riding schools.

What to wear…

Loud dressing is as much out of place upon a wheel as elsewhere, and, indeed, nowhere is refinement more apparent than as displayed in the cycling costume. The dress question for women is not yet settled by any means, but no self-respecting woman will wear a costume that is hardly distinguishable from a man’s, or that is otherwise conspicuous. Modesty is becoming at all times, and especially upon a bicycle.

The bloomer is being fast superseded by the more rational short-skirted costume that rather adds to, than detracts from, a woman’s appearance. A prominent physician advises women cyclists to wear woolen clothing, the head covering light, low shoes, leggings, and no corsets. A practical costume is designed to allow perfect freedom of movement. The Alpine hat is considered the proper head-gear for women.

Men should wear a short loose-fitting sack coat of some light woolen material, with knickerbockers to match, woolen stockings, cap, low shoes and a negligee shirt, or if the day is cold, a sweater.


And always remember…

In balancing a bicycle the body must be kept erect and in a direct line with the frame of the wheel, bending and swaying with its motion. The eye should be kept up and looking straight ahead. It takes three lessons to enable the average man to learn to manage a wheel, while a woman usually needs five.

Parisian Manners and Fashion in the 1830s


Today I’m excerpting from The Gentleman and Lady’s Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment: Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes by Elizabeth Celnart and translated from the Paris edition in 1833.  The beautiful illustrations are from an 1836 issue of the famous French journal Le Bon Ton, which, oddly enough,  can be found appended to Blackwood’s Lady’s Magazine and Gazette of the Fashionable World, Or, St. James’s Court-register of Belles Lettres, Fine Arts, Music, Drama, Fashions, &c on Google books. Enjoy!



Of Balls

I was going to say, let us begin with private balls; but I recollect that this denomination is no longer fashionable. We do not say, a ball at Madam such a one’s, but an evening party (soirée). Nevertheless, when we wish to give a dance, we give the invitations a week beforehand, that the ladies may have time to prepare articles for their toilet.

If it is to be a simple evening party, in which we may wear a summer walking dress, the mistress of the house gives verbal invitations and does not omit to apprise her friends of this circumstance, or they might appear in unsuitable dresses. If, on the contrary, the soirée is to be in reality a ball, the invitations are written, or what is better, printed, and expressed in the third person.


A room appropriated for dresses, and furnished with cloak pins to hang up the shawls and other garments of the ladies, is almost indispensable. Domestics should be there also to aid them in taking off and putting on their outside garments.

We are not obliged to go exactly at the appointed hour; it is even fashionable to go an hour later. Married ladies are accompanied by their husbands, unmarried ones, by their mother or by a chaperon. These last ladies place themselves behind the dancers; the master of the house goes before one and another, procures seats for them, and then mingles again among the gentlemen who are standing, and who form groups or walk about the room.

The toilet of all the assembly should be made with great care. A gentleman who should appear in a riding-coat and boots, would pass for a person of bad ton.

When you are sure of a place in the dance, you go up to a lady, and ask her if she will do you the honor to dance with you. If she answers that she is engaged, invite her for the next dance, and take care not to address yourself afterwards to any ladies next to her, for these not being able to refuse you, would feel hurt at being invited after another. Never wait until the signal is given to take a partner, for nothing is more impolite than to invite a lady hastily, and when the dancers are already in their places; it can be allowed only when the set is incomplete.


A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility which might occasion trouble; she would besides seem to show contempt for him whom she refused, and would expose herself to receive an ill compliment from him.

Married or young ladies cannot leave a ball-room or any other party alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.


We should avoid talking too much; it would occasion remarks and have a bad appearance to whisper continually in the ear of our partner.

The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance; he should take notice of those who seem to serve as drapery to the walls of the ball-room, or wall-flowers, as the familiar expression is, and should see that they are invited to dance. He must do this wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of the unfortunate ladies.


Gentlemen whom the master of the house requests to dance with these ladies, should be ready to accede to his wish, and even appear pleased at dancing with a person thus recommended to their notice.

Ladies who dance much, ought to be very careful not to boast before those who dance but little or not at all, of the great number of dances for which they are engaged in advance. They should also, without being perceived, recommend to these less fortunate ladies, gentlemen of their acquaintance.


In giving the hand for ladies’ chain or any figures, those dancing should wear a smile, and accompany it with a polite inclination of the head, in the manner of a salutation. At the end of the dance, the gentleman re-conducts the lady to her place, bows and thanks her for the honor which she has conferred. She also curtsies in silence, smiling with a gracious air.

In these assemblies, we ought to conduct ourselves with reserve and politeness towards all present, although they may be unknown to us.

Persons who have no ear for music, that is to say, a false one, ought to refrain from dancing.


Never hazard taking part in a quadrille unless you know how to dance tolerably. If you are a novice or but little skilled, you would bring disorder into the midst of pleasure. Being once engaged to take part in the dance, if the figures are not familiar, be careful not to advance first. You can in this way govern your steps by those who go before you. Beware also of taking your place in a set of dancers more skillful than yourself.

When an unpractised dancer makes a mistake, we may apprise him of his error; but it would be very impolite to have the air of giving him a lesson.

Dance with grace and modesty; neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain from great leaps and ridiculous jumps which would attract the attention of all towards you.

In a private ball or party, it is proper to show still more reserve, and not to manifest more preference for one lady than another; we should dance with all indiscriminately, but we may, moreover, invite the same lady more than once.


In public balls, a gentleman offers his partner refreshments, which she very seldom accepts, unless she is much acquainted with him. But in private parties, the persons who receive the company, send round cake and other refreshments, of which each one helps himself as he pleases. Near the end of the evening, in a well regulated ball, it is customary to have a supper, when the gentlemen stand behind the ladies who are seated.

In a soirée without great preparation, we may dispense with a supper, but refreshments are necessary; and not to have them would be the greatest impoliteness.

The waltz is a dance of quite too loose a character, and unmarried ladies should refrain from it in public and private; very young married ladies, however, may be allowed to waltz in private balls, if it is very seldom, and with persons of their acquaintance. It is indispensable for them to acquit themselves with dignity and decency.


I have spoken of public balls, in contradistinction to private ones, and I might also have mentioned balls by subscription, for, in regard to the public balls of Paris and other large cities, we have nothing to advise our readers but to shun them. As to masked balls, it is an amusement altogether to be condemned, except those of the Opera. Neither should we appear there except in a domino.

We should retire incognito, not to disturb the master and mistress of the house; we should make them during the week, a visit of thanks, at which we may converse of the pleasure of the ball and of the good selection of the company.

Of different Kinds of Visits


Visits are a very important part of the social relations; they are not merely the simple means of communication established by necessity, since they have at once for their object, duty and pleasure, and they enter into almost all the acts of life.

There are many kinds of visits, but we shall confine ourselves to the principal ones; as for those which only occur under peculiar circumstances, the reader will find them mentioned in the course of this work. The first are the visits on new year’s day; next, visits of friendship and of ceremony: we shall not speak of visits of business; what we have said in speaking of propriety in relation to different professions, will dispense with our entering into new details.

At the return of each new year, custom and duty require us to present ourselves to our relations first; afterwards to our patrons, our friends, and those who have done any kindness for us.

These visits are divided into several classes; those of the evening or afternoon, which are the most polite; of the morning, which are the most friendly and respectful; by cards, and presenting one’s-self, and by cards without presenting one’s-self; visits weekly, which are confined to acquaintances with whom we have not very close relations; monthly, which are less ceremonious, but however partake of coldness: it is at Paris more than any other place, that these visits are permitted; such calls demand much attention to the toilet; they should be as short as possible; a visit of quarter of an hour is long enough, and we should be careful to retire when other persons come in.


We should appear ridiculous to wish persons a happy new year, in ceremonious visits.

I shall not mention friendly calls, except to remind my readers, that almost all ceremony should be dispensed with. They are made at all hours, without preparation, without dressing; a too brilliant attire would be out of place, and if the engagements of the day carry you in such a costume at the house of a friend, you ought obligingly to make an explanation. Should you not find them at home, do not leave a card; such useless ceremony would astonish your friends. Merely remind the domestics to mention your calling, and do not leave your card, except the servants are absent; then the card should be rolled up, and put in the key-hole. It will be well to call again soon.

With a friend, or relation whom we treat as such, we do not keep an account of our visits. The one who has most leisure, calls upon him who has the least; but this privilege ought not to be abused: it is necessary to make our visits of friendship at suitable times.

On the contrary, a visit of ceremony should never be made without keeping an account of it, and we should even remember the intervals at which they are returned; for it is indispensably necessary to let a similar interval elapse. People in this way give you notice whether they wish to see you often or seldom. There are some persons whom one goes to see once in a month, others once a fortnight, &c.; others, however, less frequently. In order not to omit visits, which are to be made, or to avoid making them from misinformation, when a preceding one has not been returned, persons who have an extensive acquaintance, will do well to keep a little memorandum for this purpose.


We cannot make ceremonious visits in a becoming manner, if we have any slight indisposition which may for the time affect our appearance, our voice—which may embarrass our thoughts, and render our company fatiguing; such for instance as a swelled face, a cold, a slight headache; in that case it would appear impolite and familiar. On the 62contrary, make visits of friendship under such circumstances, and then you will appear more amiable and zealous.

To take a suitable time, is as indispensable in visiting, as in any thing else.

One can attain this, by remembering the habits of the person he is going to see; by making your arrangements so as not to call at the time of taking meals, in moments of occupation, and when our friends are walking. This time necessarily varies; but as a general rule we must take care not to make ceremonious visits, either before the middle of the day, or after five o’clock. To do otherwise would, on the one hand, look like importunity, by presenting one’s-self too early; and on the other, might interfere with arrangements that had been made for the evening.


After making one’s toilet with care, visitors should furnish themselves with cards, that is with small pieces of card or pasteboard, upon which their name is printed or well written. Gentlemen ought simply to put their cards in their pocket, but ladies may carry them in a small elegant portfolio, called a card case. This they can hold in their hand, and it will contribute essentially (with an elegant handkerchief of embroidered battise,) to give them an air of good taste.

We shall here make a digression in relation to cards. It was not considered impolite, formerly, to take the cards of a cast off pack, cut them crosswise into three parts, and write one’s name upon them; this, however, is now a subject of ridicule, and is only seen in provincial towns, where they sometimes also substitute for these cards small pieces of thick paper. Next to these cards come those made of thin pasteboard, smooth, gilt-edged, watered, and intended to have the name in writing. These are suitable for young gentlemen and young ladies; and they answer for half ceremonious visits. After these, come lithographic cards, then printed ones, and last those which are engraved. Some cards are figured in a rich manner, presenting every degree of expensive elegance. Every one will choose these according to his taste; but it is well to observe that cards ornamented with borders, and those of the color of the rose, and sky blue, are not suitable for men, nor for ladies of mature years, because they have an air of over-nicety.


The title is usually placed under the name, and, in large cities, the address, at the bottom of the card and in smaller letters. Mourning cards are surmounted with a black margin, half mourning ones are of a bright gray.

It is bad ton to keep the cards you have received around the frame of a looking glass; such an exposure shows that you wish to make a display of the names of distinguished visitors. At the beginning of a new year, or when from some cause or other which multiplies visitors at your house, (such as a funeral or a marriage,) you are obliged to return these numerous calls, it is not amiss to preserve the cards in a convenient place, and save yourself the trouble of writing a list; but if, during the year, your glass is always seen bristling with smoke-dried cards, it will be attributed without doubt, to an ill-regulated self-esteem. But let us return to our visitors.

If the call is made in a carriage, the servant will ask if the lady you wish to see is at home. If persons call in a hired carriage, or on foot, they go themselves to ask the servants. Servants are considered as soldiers on duty; if they reply that the person has gone out, we should by no means urge the point, even if we were certain it was not the case; and if by chance we should see the person, we should appear not to have noticed it, but leave our card and retire. When the servant informs us that the lady or gentleman is unwell, engaged in business, or dining, we must act in a similar manner.


We should leave as many cards as there are persons we wish to see in the house; for example, one for the husband, another for his wife, another for the aunt, &c. When admitted, we should lay aside our over-shoes, umbrella, cloak, &c. in the ante-chamber, even ladies should lay aside their cloaks in the houses of distinguished persons. In the provincial towns they commonly keep them on. We then are announced by the servant, if it is the custom of the house, or at least we wait until (without announcing us,) he opens the door of the apartment.

In case of the absence of the servants, you ought not to enter immediately, but knock gently with the finger, and wait until some one opens the door or bids you come in. If he does neither, you open the door slowly and softly: should you find no one, do not go about and open other doors, or pass into an inner room, but retrace your steps immediately, return to the ante-room, and remain until some one comes to give you an introduction. If you are obliged to stay very long, you can leave your card on a piece of furniture or with the porter. This is a case of rare occurrence; but it is well to provide for it, in order not to be taken unawares. When admitted, a gentleman presents himself with his hat in his hand, and advancing towards the lady, salutes her gracefully and respectfully. As soon as he observes the lady is looking for a seat to offer him, he must lose no time in providing one for himself (commonly a chair) this he places towards the door by which he entered, and at some distance from the lady, to whom he should leave the upper part of the room. He ought by no means to sit, except she is seated; and holding his hat upon his knee must not balance himself or sink down in his chair, but preserve an easy, polite and becoming attitude. It would be familiar and bad ton to put down the hat or cane, before the gentleman, and particularly the lady of the house, has invited you to do it. Even then it is proper to refuse, and not to do it until asked two or three times. In putting down the hat, we should not do it carelessly, nor ought we to place it on a couch, for this is impolite. The couch, which in ancient times was regarded as a sanctuary, ought neither to be touched nor approached by a man. It is best to put the hat on a bracket or chandelier stand, &c. The lady of a house does not attempt to take the hats of gentlemen, except she wishes to treat them with familiarity, and this is seldom done in calls of pure ceremony.


These remarks will apply also to ladies. Within fifteen years past it has be
en their custom to lay aside their hats and shawls; but that supposes an intimacy, which would authorize their abstaining from it at the houses of those with whom they are not much acquainted; and, if they are invited to lay them aside, 67they should refuse. The short time devoted to a ceremonious visit, the necessity of consulting a glass in replacing the head-dress, and of being assisted in putting on the shawl, prevent ladies from accepting the invitation to lay them aside. If they are slightly familiar with the person they are visiting, and wish to be more at ease, they should ask permission, which we should grant them, at the same time rising to assist them in taking off their hat and shawl. An arm-chair, or a piece of furniture at a distant part of the room should receive these articles; they should not be placed upon the couch, without the mistress of the house puts them there. At the house of a person we visit habitually, we can lay them aside without saying a word, and a lady can even adjust her hair and handkerchief, (ficher) before the glass, provided she occupies only a few moments in doing it.

If the person you call upon is preparing to go out, or to sit down at table, you ought, although he asks you to remain, to retire as soon as possible. The person visited so unseasonably, should, on her part, be careful to conceal her knowledge that the other wishes the visit ended quickly. We should always appear delighted to receive a visitor, and should he make a short visit, we must express to him our regret. Ceremonious visits should be short; if the conversation ceases without being again continued by the person you have come to see, if she gets up from her seat under any pretext whatever, custom requires you to make your salutation and withdraw.


If, before this tacit invitation to retire, other visiters are announced, you should adroitly leave them without saying anything. In case the master of the house, in waiting upon you to the door, should ask you to remain longer, you should briefly reply to him, that an indispensable engagement calls you, and you must entreat him with earnestness not to detain you. You should terminate your visit by briskly shutting the door.

If, on entering the room, you find strangers engaged in conversation, content yourself with the few words which the master or mistress of the house shall address to you; stop only a few moments, make a general salutation, and conduct yourself as in the preceding case. When you have happened to meet the strangers elsewhere, they may unite sometimes with the person you are visiting, to prevent your taking leave; reply in a polite and flattering manner, but still persist in retiring. If while you are present, a letter is brought to the person you are visiting, and she should lay it down without opening it, you must entreat her to read it; she will not do it, and this circumstance will warn you to shorten your visit.


When you make a half ceremonious call, and the person you are visiting, insists upon your stopping, it is proper to do so, but after a few minutes you should rise to go: if you are urged still further, and are taken by the hands and made to sit down as it were by force, to leave immediately would be impolite, but nevertheless you must, after a short interval, get up a third time, and then certainly retire. If, during your call, a member of the family enters the room, you need not on this account take leave, but content yourself by rising, and saluting the person. If a lady, you must not seat yourself until she sits down; if a gentleman, you can yield to the invitation made you to take your seat, while the other remains standing. If you make a visit with others, there are some points to be observed in relation to your companions. In going up the staircase, it is rigorously the custom to give precedence to those to whom you owe respect, and to yield to such persons the most convenient part of the stairs, which is that next the wall. Above all, do not forget this last caution if you accompany a lady; and a well-bred gentleman, at such a time, should offer his arm. When there are many persons, he should bestow this mark of respect on the oldest. If you meet any one on the staircase, place yourself on the side opposite to the one he occupies. It would be vexatious and out of place to make an everlasting ceremony as to who should be announced first; the preference must be given to ladies; next to them, to age and rank. The time of taking leave should be also determined by ladies, or by aged persons, and those who are of consequence. It would be impolite to wish to retire before they gave the signal. We should add, that it is unsuitable for more than three or four to visit together. Persons of high ton are accompanied even to the ante-room by one or two servants, who receive them again when going out.

To carry children or dogs with one on a visit of ceremony, is altogether vulgar and provincial. Even in half-ceremonious visits, it is necessary to leave one’s dog in the ante-room, as well as the nurse who holds the infant, for this circumstance alone excuses such a suite. As to animals, it is a thousand times better not to have them at all.

We justly reproach inhabitants of the province for lavishing salutations in meeting people, or in taking leave of them. This custom, which may make us contract a reservedness or too much familiarity, is extremely ridiculous. Is it not difficult to keep one’s countenance, when we see a visitor salute every article of furniture, to turn and turn again twenty times as you conduct him, and pour forth at every pause a volley of salutations and adieus? Our readers will beware of this over politeness; they will salute the first time, at the moment they take leave, and again, when the person who conducts them back shall have stopped at the door. We have before said that when we do not find persons at home, or when we are afraid of disturbing them, we leave a card; but this is not what we call particularly visits by card (visites par cartes). In these last visits, it is not our object to see the persons, since we do not ask for them, and we confine ourselves to giving our card to the porter or domestic. This custom, which has been introduced necessarily among persons of very general acquaintance, and especially at times when every one ought to be visited, as on the new-year’s day,—this custom so far is not ridiculous, but it becomes so by the great extent which has been given to it for some time past. This extent consists in making a visit without leaving our apartment; that is to say, merely by sending our card by a domestic, or indeed by means of an agency established for this purpose. The practice of visits by cards, seems to persons of good society the most impertinent and vulgar thing which can be imagined. Do not then permit it, except when the question is about returning visits made in this way; and do not use such retaliations, except to prevent these ill-advised visitors from thinking that you put yourself out to oblige them.