Getting Presented to Queen Victoria, Paying Social Calls, and Riding Etiquette in the 1870s

Today I am excerpting again from The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society. Containing Forms of Letters, Invitations, Acceptances and Regrets. With a Copious Index published in 1877. I must be honest with you; I’m not particularly interested in the topics of calling and riding etiquette.  I just wanted to play with fashion from  La Mode Illustrée in 1869.



It is frequently a satisfaction to an American to be presented to the queen during a sojourn in England. It is at least something to talk about when one returns home; and as the queen is really a good woman, worthy of all honor, we, even as a born republican, can find no valid cause for objection.

Those Eligible To Presentation At Court

The nobility, with their wives and daughters, are eligible to presentation at court unless there be some grave moral objection, in which case, as it has ever been the aim of the good and virtuous queen to maintain a high standard of morality within her court, the objectionable parties are rigidly excluded.

The clergy, naval and military officers, physicians and barristers and the squirearchy, with their wives and daughters, have also a right to pay their personal respects to their queen.

Those Not Eligible

Those of more democratic professions, such as solicitors, merchants and mechanics, have not, as a rule, that right, though wealth and connexion have recently proved an open sesame at the gates of St. James.


Those Who May Present Others

Any person who has been presented at court may present a friend in his or her turn. A person wishing to be presented must beg the favor from the friend or relative of the highest rank he or she may possess.


Preliminaries To Presentation

Any nobleman or gentleman who proposes to be presented to the queen must leave at the lord chamberlain’s office before twelve o’clock, two days before the levee, a card with his name written thereon, and with the name of the nobleman or gentleman by whom he is to be presented. In order to carry out the existing regulation that no presentation can be made at a levee excepting by a person actually attending that levee, it is also necessary that a letter from the nobleman or gentleman who is to make the presentation, stating it to be his intention to be present, should accompany the presentation card above referred to, which will be submitted to the queen for Her Majesty’s approbation. These regulations of the lord chamberlain must be implicitly obeyed.

Directions at what gate to enter and where the carriages are to stop are always printed in the newspapers.

These directions apply with equal force to ladies and to gentlemen.


 Presentation Costume

The person to be presented must provide himself or herself with a court costume, which need not be particularly described here, but which for men consists partly of knee-breeches and hose, for women of an ample court train. These costumes are indispensable, and can be hired for the occasion.

The Presentation

It is desirable to be early to escape the crowd. When the lady leaves her carriage, she must leave everything in the shape of a cloak or scarf behind her. Her train must be carefully folded over her left arm as she enters the long gallery of St. James, where she awaits her turn for presentation.

The lady is at length ushered into the presence-chamber, which is entered by two doors. She goes in at the one indicated to her, dropping her train as she passes the threshold, which train is instantly spread out by the wands of the lords-in-waiting. The lady then walks forward toward the sovereign or the person who represents the sovereign. The card on which her name is inscribed is then handed to another lord-in-waiting, who reads the name aloud.

When she arrives just before His or Her Majesty, she should curtsey as low as possible, so as to almost kneel.


If the lady presented be a peeress or peer’s daughter, the queen kisses her on her forehead. If only a commoner, then the queen extends her hand to be kissed by the lady presented, who, having done so, rises, curtseys to each of the other members of the royal family present, and then passes on. She must keep her face turned toward the sovereign as she goes to and through the door leading from the presence-chamber. Considerable dexterity is required in managing the train in this backward transit, and it is well to rehearse the scene beforehand.

Rights Of Peers And Peeresses

Peeresses in their own right, as well as peers, may demand a private audience of their sovereign.


Calls may be made either in the morning or in the evening.

Morning Calls

Morning calls should not be made earlier than twelve M. nor later than five p. M. From twelve until three are the most fashionable hours.

A morning call should not exceed half an hour in length. From ten to twenty minutes is ordinarily quite long enough. If other visitors come in, the visit should terminate as speedily as possible. Upon leaving bow slightly to the strangers. It is not necessary to introduce visitors to each other at a morning call unless they have indicated their desire to be acquainted.

In making a call be careful to avoid the lunch- or dinner-hour of your friends.

Evening Calls

In many cases it is more convenient for both caller and called upon that the call should be made in the evening. An evening call should never take place later than nine o’clock nor be prolonged after ten, neither should it be more than an hour in length.


The Visiting-card

On making a call send up your card by the one who answers your summons at the door, if the person or persons called upon are at home. This is better than trusting your name to a servant, who may possibly mispronounce it. Leave your card at the door if you find no one at home. If there are two or more ladies, for whom the call was intended, a corner of the card should be turned down.

Inscription On Visiting-card

A visiting-card should bear simply the name and address of its owner. If the person has any legitimate title, such as Dr. or Rev. or Capt., it is perfectly proper to prefix it to the name; but if the title is merely an honorary one, such as Prof, or Hon., good taste indicates that it should be omitted.

Receiving A Visitor

A gentleman on receiving a friend meets him at the door and places a chair for him. A lady should rise to meet a gentleman, but need not advance from her seat if she do not choose. She may shake hands with her guest if she feels inclined, or she may merely bow. In receiving a lady she should advance to meet her.


Departure Of Visitors

A gentleman on receiving a lady should not only meet her at the door of the drawing-room, but should at the end of her call accompany her to the steps, and even to her carriage. A lady should accompany a lady visitor to the door on leaving unless other guests claim her attention. If her visitor be a gentleman, she may content herself with ringing for the servant to see him to the door.



General Rules Regarding Calls

In making a formal call a gentleman should retain his hat and gloves in his hand on entering the room. The hat should not be laid upon a table or stand, but kept in the hand, unless it is found necessary from some cause to set it down. In that case deposit it upon the floor. An umbrella should be left in the hall. In an informal evening call the hat, gloves, overcoat and cane may all be left in the hall.

A lady may in making a call bring a stranger, even a gentleman, with her without previous permission. A gentleman should never take that liberty.

No one should prolong a call if the person upon whom the call is made is found dressed ready to go out.

Never look at a watch during a morning visit.

A lady never calls upon a gentlemen except professionally or officially.

A lady should be more richly dressed when calling on her friends than for an ordinary walk.

Never allow young children or pets of any sort to accompany you in a call. They often prove very disagreeable and troublesome.


In receiving morning visits it is unnecessary for a lady to lay aside any employment not of an absorbing nature upon which she may happen to be engaged. Embroidery, crocheting or light needlework is perfectly in harmony with the requirements of the hour, and the lady looks much better employed than in perfect idleness.

A lady should pay equal attention to all her guests. The display of unusual deference is alone allowable when distinguished rank or reputation or advanced age justifies it.

A guest should take the seat indicated by the hostess. A gentleman should never seat himself on a sofa beside her, or in a chair in immediate proximity, unless she specially invites him to do so.

The seat of honor in the winter is in the corner by the fireplace, and that seat should be offered to the most distinguished guest. If a single lady occupies the seat and a married lady enters, the former should immediately rise and offer the latter her seat, herself taking another chair.

When a person has once risen to take his leave, he should not be persuaded to prolong his stay.

A caller should take special pains to make his visits opportune. On the other hand, a lady should always receive her callers at whatever hour or day they come if it is possible to do so.

Etiquette Of The Visiting-card

The card plays an important role in visits.

A card should always be sent by the servant who admits you to the hostess who is to receive you, that there may be no mistake in your name.

If you find any one absent from home or engaged, a card may be left in lieu of a visit.

A married lady may leave her husband’s card with her own.

Cards may be sent during the illness of any one, accompanied with verbal inquiries concerning the patient’s health.

In case of visits of condolence, cards may be made to serve the purpose of an actual visit.

So, also, on occasions for congratulation, if circumstances forbid an immediate formal visit, a card should be sent instead.


A newly-married couple indicate whom they wish to retain for acquaintances by sending out their cards. The reception of these cards should be acknowledged by an early personal call.

Cards must be left the week following a dinner party, ball or social gathering.

The First To Call

Residents in a place should make the first call upon new comers. This call should be returned within a week.

Calling On Strangers

If there is a stranger visiting at the house of a friend, the acquaintances of the family should be punctilious to call at an early date.

Laying Aside The Bonnet

A lady should never lay aside her bonnet during a formal call even though urged to do so. If the call be a friendly and unceremonious one, she may do so if she thinks proper, though never without an invitation.

If you should call upon a friend and find a party assembled, remain a short time and converse in an unembarrassed manner, and then withdraw, refusing invitations to remain unless they be very pressing and apparently sincere.

Seat Of Honor In A Carriage

In driving the choicest seat is the one facing the horses. Gentlemen should always yield this to the ladies; and if there are but one gentleman and one lady in the carriage, the gentleman must sit down opposite the lady unless she invite him to the seat by her side. The place of honor is on the right hand of the seat facing the horses. This is also the seat of the hostess, and she is never expected to resign it. If she is not driving, it must be offered to the most distinguished lady.

Entering A Carriage.

In entering a carriage one should so enter that the back is toward the seat intended to be occupied, so that there will be no need of turning round. A gentleman must be careful not to trample upon or crush ladies’ dresses.

Assisting Ladies To Alight

A gentleman must first alight from a carriage, even if he has to pass before a lady in so doing. He must then assist the ladies to alights, If there is a servant with the carriage, the latter may hold open the door, but the gentleman must by all means furnish the ladies the required assistance.


It is quite an art to descend from a carriage properly. More attention is paid to this matter in England than in America. We are told an anecdote by M. Mercy d’Argenteau illustrative of the importance of this. He says: “The princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, having been desired by the empress of Austria to bring her three daughters to court in order that Her Imperial Majesty might choose one of them for a wife to one of her sons, drove up in her coach to the palace gate. Scarcely had they entered her presence when, before even speaking to them, the empress went up to the second daughter, and taking her by the hand said,

“‘ I choose this young lady.’

“The mother, astonished at the suddenness of her choice, inquired what had actuated her.

“‘I watched the young ladies get out of their carriage,’ said the empress. ‘Your eldest daughter stepped on her dress, and only saved herself from falling by an awkward scramble. The youngest jumped from the coach to the ground without touching the steps. The second, just lifting her dress in front as she descended, so as to show the point of her shoe, calmly stepped from the carriage to the ground, neither hurriedly nor stiffly, but with grace and dignity. She is fit to be an empress. The eldest sister is too awkward, the youngest too wild.”

A gentleman in assisting a lady into a carriage will take care that the skirt of her dress is not allowed to hang outside. It is best to have a carriage-robe to protect it entirely from the mud or dust of the road. He should provide her with her parasol, fan and shawl before he seats himself, and make certain that she is in every way comfortable.

If a lady has occasion to leave the carriage before the gentleman accompanying her, he must alight to assist her out; and if she wishes to resume her seat in the carriage, he must again alight to help her to do so.


Etiquette Of Riding

The etiquette of riding is very exact and important.

One should not make too prominent an appearance on horseback until one is thoroughly master of the situation. There is an old rhyme which gives the art of riding in one lesson:

“Keep up your head and your heart,

Your hands and your heels keep down;

Press your knees close to your horse’s sides,

And your elbows close to your own.”

Preparations For Riding

A gentleman contemplating a ride with a lady should make certain her horse is a proper one for her use if it is one to which she is not accustomed. He must also see that everything about the saddle and head-gear is in perfect order and secure from accident, and not trust to the careless supervision of grooms or livery-stable men. He is for the time being responsible for her safety.


Assisting Ladies To Mount

In riding with a lady it is the gentleman’s duty to assist her to mount. The lady will place herself on the near or left side of the horse, standing as close to him as possible, with her skirt gathered in her left hand, her right hand upon the pommel and her face toward the horse’s head. The gentleman should stand at the horse’s shoulder, facing her, stooping, with his hand held so that she may place her left foot in it. This she does when the foot is lifted as she springs, so as to gently aid her in gaining the saddle. The gentleman must then put her foot in the stirrup and smooth the skirt of her habit . He is then at liberty to mount himself.

How close proximity he keeps to her, and if there are two ladies whether he ride between or on one side of them, must depend upon how skilled the ladies are in riding and how much assistance they require of him.

Pace In Riding

The lady must always decide upon the pace. It is ungenerous to urge her or incite her horse to a faster gait than she feels competent to undertake.

If a gentleman riding alone meets a lady walking and desires to speak to her, he must alight to do so.


Assisting A Lady To Alight From A Horse

After the ride the gentleman must assist his companion to alight. She must first free her knee from the pommel and be certain that her habit is entirely disengaged. He must then take her left hand in his right and offer his left hand as a step for her foot. He must lower this hand gently and allow her to reach the ground quietly without springing. A lady should not attempt to spring from the saddle.

Courtesies In Riding

A gentleman should offer all the courtesies of the road, yielding the best and shadiest side of the road to the lady or elderly gentleman with whom he is riding. He must open all gates and pay all tolls. He should ride to the right of his companion, unless circumstances temporarily favor the other side.


On Morning Calls and Hosting Dinner Parties, Balls and Routs in the Late Regency

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, routsconversaziones 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.


Certain Points of Good Breeding for Victorian Gentlemen

I give up! I can’t find any good images for this post. Strangely, it’s hard to find pictures of men doing manly things of good breeding between the years 1840 and 1850. I suppose I could track down some paintings and such, but I’m lazy.  So, we shall just read today, no eye candy (Oh, this hurts me!)

Note:  The wonderful Nancy Mayer has taken pity on me and sent some images. Thank you, Nancy. 

The following was excerpted from The Handbook of the Man of Fashion, published in 1847 by Lindsay and Blakiston in Philadelphia.

The formalities of good-breeding will always be kept up by those who remember that much of the distinction of a gentleman is merely conventional, and that it is so intimately connected with etiquette that it can scarcely support itself without it. Religion could not be sustained without the aid of superstition, which defends by the name of sanctity the remotest passes to faith; in like condition, etiquette which is the superstition of manner, is requisite to give to the character of a gentleman that importance and mystery which are necessary to its respectability

When company enter the room at an evening party or ball, the gentleman of the house should go up and bow to them before they present themselves to the lady. (I have employed in this volume, the words ‘ lady’ and ‘gentleman,’ instead of the words ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ which are more correct expressions and more usual in the best circles. I have done so in deference to the taste and practice of the greater number in this country.). He may mention to them in what part of the room they will find the lady of the house, if she is not directly in their view; but he should not conduct and accompany them up to her, as is often done by persons of inferior breeding who wish to be polite. That this is an error will be seen by reflecting that it is the duty of the mistress of the house to meet and receive her guests at their first entrance into her house, and to go in quest of them, if she has not found them at once; and no member of the family should by his conduct admit that it is necessary for the visitors to seek about for the hostess. He should either let the reception take its course, or should go and tell the lady of the house to come forward and receive such-or-such a person.

If you are at another house than your own, and see a lady coming in, unattended by a gentleman, you should offer her your arm and take her up to the lady of the house. You should do the same to ladies who are taking leave, and you should conduct them to their carriages.

If a lady is going to her carriage, or is alone in any public place where it is usual or would be convenient for ladies to be attended, you should offer her your arm and service, even if you do not know her. To do so, in a private room, as in the case above mentioned, might be thought a liberty.

When a waiter of coffee or of preserves is handed to a lady she should help herself, and gentlemen standing by should permit her to do so, and should abstain from any interference. It was once deemed courtly for gentlemen to save ladies from this trouble, by putting sugar and cream in their coffee for them, and asking them on other occasions what they would be helped to ; but it is now clearly understood that the effort of a lady’s helping herself in fact amounts to nothing, and that by doing so, she can gratify her own taste and choice much better than when another serves her, and, at the same time, that quietness and ease of action, which is the chief and best characteristic of society, is attained in a much higher degree. In second-rate houses you still see the host going round with every waiter in the fussy manner of the last century, and demanding how much sugar and cream everyone will take in their coffee. But so perfectly disused among the best-bred persons is this practice, that if you see any man doing it, you may confidently decide that he is not accustomed to the first society.

At an evening party you should make a point of going all round the room, after you have saluted the lady of the house, and bowing to every lady with whom you are acquainted. If, also, in any public room, or place of exhibition, you see any persons whom you know, you should go and speak to them.

If you meet ladies or gentlemen whom you do not know, at a morning visit, or a small evening party where you sit next to them, and are brought in contact with them, converse with them with the same readiness and ease as if you had known them all your life. Moreover, if in talking with one whom you are acquainted with, there are others in the group whom you do not know, you should address them precisely on the same terms on which you speak to your friend. On such an occasion, the topics should he as impersonal as possible, but the manner should be wholly free from embarrassment. A shy or awkward demeanour towards strangers in such positions, is the certain mark of one not familiar with the great world.

If you are presented to a lady at an evening party, you should call upon her soon after.

When you receive a card of invitation, you should return an answer immediately, — in the same hour that you receive it. This is a point of conduct which good-breeding, good feeling, good sense, and good morals seem to unite in enforcing; and yet it is often violated. It is at once an instinct of kindness, and in some degree a moral duty, to let the person who has been so courteous in the offer of hospitality, know at the earliest possible moment how many people may be expected to come, that the arrangements may be made accordingly; and the withholding of replies till a late period, often occasions the most grievous embarrassment and inconvenience to the entertainer. Moreover, reason and the sense of the thing, require that when a request is made to you, you should respond promptly, one way or the other; just as when a verbal question is put, the reply should follow instantly. The only excuse which any one could give for not sending an immediate answer would be that the servants were not at leisure to carry it ; — a most vulgar and plebeian excuse ! as if the servants of a gentleman or lady were not always at leisure to do what their employer wished. It is to be understood that people of quality keep attendants enough to meet all the exigencies of life. Attention to this point always has been and will be a test of the real refinement of a person ; but I trust the time will soon come when society will settle the practice so authoritatively that no one having any pretensions to good standing can  safety venture to delay an answer to an invitation.

If a lady accepts an invitation, nothing but the most cogent necessity amounting to an absolute prevention, should be permitted to interfere with her keeping her word. To decline at a late period, after having accepted, is, I believe, invariably felt to be a rudeness and an insult ; and it will be resented in some civil way.

A young gentleman should always accept the invitation of a lady, whether he is intending to go or not; unless absence from town, or illness, or some such matter will prevent his going, and then the reason should be stated in the note. It is so much a matter of custom or of course for young men to accept, that a bare refusal would excite surprise. If you do not go, you should call the next morning and leave your card by way of apology. If the party is large, there is no very imperative duty upon you to go, though it is certainly more proper and gentlemanlike to do so, after accepting. If the party is small, and your presence would be important, it would be rude, and it would do you an injury with the mistress of the house, not to appear after having promised to do so.

At an evening party, a gentleman should abstain from conversing with the members of the family at whose house the company are assembled, as they wish to be occupied with entertaining their other guests. A well-bred man will do all that he can in assisting the lady of the house to render the evening pleasant. He will avoid talking to men, and will devote himself entirely to the women, and especially to those who are not much attended to by others. He will exert himself to amuse the company as much as possible, and to give animation and interest to the occasion. Such efforts are always observed and appreciated by the hostess, and win her regard and esteem; while an opposite conduct rarely fails to excite something like resentment. To show that you take an interest in the success of her party, and to do all that you can to promote it, will give her a great deal of pleasure.

There is an uncourtly fault often committed in company, yet perhaps, in all cases, arising from thoughtlessness rather than from rudeness, — that of remarking to the hostess that the room is very warm, or that the weather is so bad as to render the ride to her house extremely disagreeable. Such remarks, it is true, may convey no direct reproach upon her, because the matters are beyond her control, or against her intention; yet they make her feel uncomfortably for having been the occasion of the suffering complained of, and she will always be obliged to apologize or express her regret. It is bad taste in the hostess, likewise, to talk about such things, and to anticipate observation by excuses and regrets. Entire silence should be preserved as to such matters.

At an evening party, never put a teacup; wine glass, glass of water, or cup of lemonade, back upon the same waiter from which you took it. That waiter will be handed to others, and it will be disagreeable to them to survey an array of half-empty cups and glasses, and perhaps inconvenient to distinguish which are fresh and which have been used. Another waiter, in every re-spectable house, follows the first one for the purpose of receiving cups and glasses with which persons have done, and upon it alone should they be placed.

When the servants are engaged in handing tea or doing any other special service, you should not withdraw any one of them from that duty by sending them from the room for anything else, — as for a glass of water or piece of ice. This is particularly important at a small party, where there are few servants, and where their absence will be more inconvenient.

Civilities always merit acknowledgment; trivial and personal ones by word ; greater and more distant ones by letter. If a man sends you his book, or pays any other similar compliment, you should express your consideration of his courtesy, by a note. If you have been received with interest and kindness during an absence from home, you owe it to those who have entertained you, to inform them of your safe return, and to thank them for their hospitality or attentions.

In leaving your card at a hotel, you should enclose it in an envelope and direct it. The remissness of servants at public places in this country is so great, that there is no other method by which your visit will reach the knowledge of the party for whom it is intended. If you leave a card for a friend who is staying at the house of a person whom you do not visit, it is offensive and vulgar to give it a written designation for the person for whom it is intended, — as by inscribing upon it, ” For Mr. So-and-So.” The amount of that is, to say to the master of the house, “Take notice. Sir, that no portion of this civility is intended to reach you.” Either leave a single card without any writing upon it, or if your relation to the host is not such as to present a decided objection to it, leave a card for each party.

Presents made to friends, should consist of articles likely to be often in view and in use, so that they may frequently and agreeably bring the giver to memory, — as for example, diamonds or snuff-boxes. Avoid, particularly, making a present of any cumbrous thing, difficult to dispose of or employ. Such a gift, instead of exciting gratitude, will only cause you to be laughed at for your awkwardness. I have often seen costly but tactless donations that drew from the obliged party no other remark than the frequent one of, “Poor Mr. So-and-So ! he meant it very kindly, but his gift is a great plague :” and the unlucky article which was intended to cement esteem, has continued to irritate and fret the receiver, till courage has been summoned to throw it into the alley.

In meeting a friend whom you have not seen for some time, and of the state and history of whose family you have not been recently or particularly informed, you should avoid making enquiries or allusions in respect to particular individuals of his family, until you have possessed yourself of knowledge respecting them. Some may be dead ; others may have misbehaved, separated themselves, or fallen under some distressing calamity. Enquire after his family generally, and that will give him an opportunity to say what he thinks proper, and from his manner you will learn whether there is anything wrong.

In passing a lady in the street, who is accompanied by a gentleman on the outside, there is the same reason for your taking the inside that there would be for you to walk on that side if you were with them. You should take that side, then, unless you would pay the gentleman, if he were alone, the compliment of giving him the wall.

When you salute a lady, or a gentleman to whom you wish to show particular respect, in the street, you should take your hat entirely off, and cause it to describe a circle of at least ninety degrees from its original resting-place. The inferior classes of men, as you may see if you think fit to take notice of them, only press the rim of their hat when they speak to women of their acquaintance.

If there is any man whom you wish to conciliate, you should make a point of taking off your hat to him as often as you meet him. People are always gratified by respect, and they generally conceive a good opinion of the understanding of one who appreciates their excellence so much as to respect it. Such is the irresistible effect of an habitual display of this kind of manner, that perseverance in it will often conquer enmity and obliterate contempt.

If you are giving a person sugar upon a plate of fruit, as strawberries, pine-apples, or such matters, you should not scatter it over the article to which it is to be added, but should place it at the side of the plate by itself, which will enable the person to use as much as may be desirable.

In like manner, at dinner, in helping another to gravy, you should avoid putting it upon anything that is on the plate, and should lay it upon a part of the plate that is unoccupied.

When you receive a letter of business, you should answer it immediately, provided the subject be not one that requires delay. You may be certain that your correspondent is wishing to hear from you as soon as possible ; and for you to put off the reply to wait your own convenience, and to resolve that you will not gratify his desire till tomorrow, when yon might just as well do it to-day, is assuredly any-thing but courteous. Promptness and punctuality, even in the lightest affairs, give evidence of character, and impart an interest and spirit to all occasions of intercourse. Who does not feel that the real greatness, even of the Duke of Wellington, is increased by his known invariable practice of replying to every communication by letter, the moment it is received ?

If you see a person in mourning, you should not take any notice of that circumstance in his presence, or let him see that you have observed it; and you should abstain from all question on the point, and expressions of regret, surprise or sympathy. That is a rule often violated by thoughtless persons; but a moment’s consideration will show that the feelings of the individual may be such as to render any allusion to the subject of his grief very painful to him. In his absence, enquiries may be made from others. It is scarcely needful to suggest that when a man is in mourning, and you do not know for whom, you should avoid asking after any of his friends, until you have informed yourself upon that point.

If, in walking, you meet a friend, accompanied by one whom you do not know, speak to both. Also, if you are walking with a friend who speaks to a friend whom you are not acquainted with, you should speak to the person; and with as much respect and ease as if you knew the party. If you meet a man whom you have met frequently before, who knows your name, and whose name you know, it is polite to salute him.

It is in bad ton for a newly-married couple, when going to an evening party, to enter the room together. Some older person, or some relative of hers, should take the bride in. It is in better taste that, on all occasions of appearing in public, the pair should not be exactly together. The recognition of that relation should as much as possible be confined to the fireside. It is not pleasant to see persons thrusting their mutual devotedness into the eye of society.

When music is introduced at a party, the playing should either be by professional persons, or by some members of the family at whose house the company are. It is not delicate to invite any of the guests to go to the piano, and to tax their efforts for the entertainment of the circle.

If a stranger from another city calls to see you, or you meet him by accident, it is not tactful to ask him how long he has been in town. There may be many reasons why he may not wish to have that known. He may have been in town for several days, and may be unwilling to confess that he has waited so long without coining to see you.

If you call to see a stranger who is staying at the house of another person, you should not in the presence of his host, ask him how long he intends to remain. His stay may be dependent on the invitation he expects to receive, or on other grounds he may be disinclined to announce the intended length of his visit.

It is generally better to say “I hope you are well,” or, “I hope that such a one is well,” than to ask a question on the subject. This, however, is only applicable to those cases in which you are so well acquainted with the parties, and are in a condition to know of their health so frequently’, that one could not long have been sick without your hearing of it. If you have not recently heard much of the party of whom you speak, it is better to ask directly and with an air of interest, how he is, for he may have been out of health for some time, and you would not gratify his friend or relative by showing that you had known nothing of his state for so long a period.

If you are driving in company with another who holds the reins, you should most carefully abstain from even the slightest interference, by word or act, with the province of the driver. Any comment, advice, or gesture of control, implies a reproof which is very offensive. If there be any point of imminent danger, where you think his conduct wrong, you may suggest a change, but it must be done with great delicacy and must be prefaced by an apology. During the ordinary course of the drive, you should resign yourself wholly to his control, and be entirely passive. If you do not approve of his manner, or have not confidence in his skill, you need not drive with him again; but while you are with him, you should yield implicitly.

At a house where you are intimate, you may drop in and take tea without being invited ; but it is otherwise with dinner. We are told that Boileau, who had a very delicate and correct sense of honour, recommended it as a rule, which he himself always practised, never to dine with even one’s most intimate friends without being invited in particular. The maxim is worthy of close adoption.

At dinner, there should not be much conversation during the first course, while the meats are receiving attention. At least, during that season the remarks which are made should be brief, and quiet, and not upon earnest or exciting topics. Long stories should be avoided, for the listeners have other organs than the ear, which they are wishing to exercise at that time. At a later part of the entertainment, discourse is agreeable.

If you are at a small party where tea is made in the room, you should not enter into conversation with the lady who presides at the table, and you should not draw your chair close to her. She has need of all her attention in arranging and preparing the tea-waiters, and she also requires room for her arms.

Minding Your Victorian Manners: Leaving Calling Cards, Making Introductions, and Seating Your Dinner Guests

From “Letts’s Illustrated Household Magazine, A Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic Requirements” 1884, London.

N the treatment of a subject, the operation of which pervades the whole system of social ethics, it is difficult, almost impossible, to prescribe a strict code of rules which shall be applicable to every occasion that may present itself, because, in the natural course of all things, circumstances must govern cases. Yet, as a general rule, good judgment may be shown in the avoidance of errors—errors so marked that there can be no difference of opinion about them. With this view then, we shall, in offering suggestions for observance in connection with the accepted rules of etiquette, supplement those observations by pointing out the mistakes that are often made—thus removing the corn from the husks; for, in promulgating a code of laws intended to bind the more refined and educated classes together, and to establish a good general understanding amongst them, it is important not only to know what to do, and how to do it, but also what not to do, and how not to do it.


a practice which principally devolves on the mistress of the house, who should leave cards on behalf of herself and her husband; it is not etiquette, however, to include bachelor friends, for whom the husband alone leaves his card. Bachelors, however, are expected to leave their cards for both husband and wife, on hearing that they have arrived either at their town house or their country seat.

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