Sunday, 27 March 2016

3 April 1880 - 'Etiquette for Ladies and Girls' by Ardern Holt

 If "manners make the man" they even more decidedly make the woman, and few gifts ensure greater happiness and affection to their possessor than a good manner.

Now, while all good manners are the offshoot of a good heart, and while kindly courteousness and thought for others are the very kernel of the matter, still there are certain laws laid down which it is necessary to thoroughly understand, and I purpose to set these before my readers. For etiquette and good breeding are not identical though they are twin sisters; for example, it is possible for a  foreigner to be perfectly well bred and yet show an ignorance of some details of etiquette.

All the niceties of personal behaviour in regard to eating, drinking, and cleanly habits are learned imperceptibly by children from their parents and guardians, hence it is most necessary that mothers who are unable to have their children constantly with them should ensure innate refinement in the teachers and attendants who surround them.

It is when a girl is old enough to "come out" as the phrase is, and to take a recognised position in the social world, that a knowledge of the code that rules good society becomes necessary. For there is but one recognised code in really good society, although some old-fashioned modes may prevail in other places, and, with old-fashioned people. "Coming out" means introduction to society either at a party at home or by being presented at her Majesty's Drawing-room, or by merely accepting the invitations of friends. When a young lady is "out" her name appears on her mother's visiting card, immediately below her mother's name; or with those of her sister's as one of the Misses _____. An unmarried lad, unless she has arrived at a certain age, does not have a card of her own, nor does she make calls on her own account, as she should certainly not have acquaintances who are unknown to her parents.

Visiting cards should be printed on thin unglazed cards, in as plain letterings as possible in text hand, with no flourishes or any remarkable style of printing, the gentlemen's about half the depth of the ladies' but in cases where there is no mother the daughters have their father's name printed on cards of the usual ladies' size, with their own beneath. Some ladies put their husband's name on their cards as well as their daughters, Mr and Mrs S____ in one line. This is not a solecism, but is somewhat old-fashioned.

The plan of card-leaving is regulated by very plainly-defined laws of etiquette. Cards were originally introduced so that people on whom the calls were made might be aware of the fact even should the servant be forgetful, and when a personal call is made they are never sent in, excepting in cases of business visits where there is no acquaintance, as, for example, in calling  for the character of a servant.

If an acquaintance is not at home when she calls, a lady leaves her own card with the names of her daughters upon it, and two of her husband's cards, one  for the master and one  for the mistress, with occasionally an additional one  for the sons If the mistress is at home, on leaving she deposits two of her husband's cards on the hall table. She must neither give them to the servant nor to the hostess. As a rule, the wives do the card-leaving for married men, who rarely call in person.

The right-hand corner of a lady's card turned down means that she intends the call to be on the young ladies as well as their mother. Cards should bear the prefix of their owner - Mrs, Miss, Lady (if a knight or baronet's wife), Countess, or any other title. The only one never used on a card is "Honourable". The Christian name without a prefix is simply a barbarism unheard of in good society, such as "Jane Brown", though young gentlemen, at college and elsewhere, put the name without a Mr".

With card-leaving comes the question of calling. Calling hours are from three to six. First calls should be returned within the week. Calls should be made also within the week after every entertainment, whether it be a dinner, or an "At Home", held either in the evening or afternoon, always assuming that the "At Home' is a party for which invitations have been issued. Many people in London, and large towns, though not, perhaps, the ultra fashionable people of London, have certain days in the week on which they receive their friends, and as the friends who put in an appearance are in fact paying a call, a subsequent call in consequence of being present at such an "At Home" is therefore unnecessary. After a dinner-party it is best to go in if the lady is at home, leaving cards, if preferred after other entertainments Most people on coming to town call on all their friends by merely leaving cards; it is etiquette for those who come to town to take the initiative for, of course, it would be almost impossible for their acquaintance to ascertain when they came. If, when a call is made simply cards are left at the door and there is no inquiry as to whether the mistress is at home, the same plan should be adopted in returning the call. Servants should be trained to remember the distinction. It is a vulgarity under any circumstances whatever to send visiting cards by post. If after an entertainment the distance is too great for a call, it would be best, if you are very punctilious, to write a polite note; but to send cards by post to save the trouble of calling is a breach of good manners.

On leaving a neighbourhood, and sometimes at the end of the season, or going abroad, cards are left with P.P.C., viz., pour prendre conge, or pour dire adieu, written upon them. If young ladies are away from home, and have been accepting hospitalities in the way of dinners and other parties their names should be written in pencil on the card of their chaperone.

in the country old residents call on new-comers, but in London and in towns generally this plan does not hold good, and an introduction is necessary before a call is made. When a call has been made the receivers can continue the acquaintance or not as they please, but first calls are generally followed by invitations from those who make them. Cards left in the case of illness should have the words "to inquire" in pencil on the top. To very young ladies a morning call is often an ordeal they would fain avoid; but this should not e encouraged. If admitted, they, with their mother, would be announced by the servant, and should take a part in the conversation without in any way monopolising it. Supposing other callers were present the can, if they please, enter into conversation with them; their so doing does not require an introduction nor necessitate an acquaintance. A quarter  of an hour is enough for a ceremonious call. Neither when other visitors come or go do those present rise; they can, if they please, bend slightly, but that is not necessary.

If the call is made about five o'clock, tea is generally served, and, as a rule, poured out by the lady of the house without ceremony.

When calls are received at home more devolves upon the young ladies of the house; then they are expected to help their mothers in the conversation and in dispensing tea, etc. They can, if they please, receive lady visitors in their mother's absence, but it depends on her approval whether gentlemen are admitted and this is not often allowed if there is but one daughter.

A young lady visiting at a house must use her discretion with regard to remaining in the room when visitors call. It depends whether she thinks her hostess would wish her to do so, and unless she happens to be herself acquainted with the people who come, it would be better, after a short interval, to retire. If visitors call upon her who are unknown to the hostess, as a young lady it would be right for her to introduce them, her chaperone taking the place of her mother  for the time being.

A young girl with all the freshness of her youth and the sweet dignity of womanhood has a sure passport into society which secured her a warmth of welcome; it depends on herself whether this grows or is early nipped in the bud.

Fastness and prim sedateness are equally to be avoided; a calm, frank, unembarrassed manner, a sympathetic interest in and thought for others, a habit of saying the right thing in the right place, the power of being a good listener, and of letting the conversation take any turn most agreeable to the speaker, these are some of the component parts of good and pleasing manners. The fault of the age rather runs towards young people assuming too much, being too confident and self-assertive, and too thoughtless with regard to their elders - all essentially bad manners.

People who have at all a large acquaintance should keep a visiting book with the names and addresses of those on whom they are on visiting terms, and a correct alphabetical list of the several members of the family who, in case of an entertainment being given, would be invited. Without this a hostess is apt to forget the number of sons or daughters. A supplementary list in a small note-book kept in or with the card-case saves a great deal of trouble when visits are paid.

Twice a year as a broad rule is sufficient number of times to call on acquaintances, unless they have given entertainments which necessitate card-leaving.

On hearing of the death of an acquaintance, cards should be at once left at the house, and when the relatives feel able to see their friends again they send by hand or post either specially printed cards or their own "with thanks for kind enquiries", which are acknowledged by a call.

Ladies, do not leave cards on gentlemen, unless they have been entertained. After a dinner given to ladies by a bachelor a wife would leave her card with her husband's. Common sense should be exercised in all these matters. The wife of a naval officer would hardly leave her husband's cards on mutual acquaintances when he was at war.


The importance of attention to rules of etiquette will be admitted even by those whose pressing duties or higher avocations hinder from rigid observance of them. For example, no one would expect the ceremonies of formal visiting from hospital nurses, though some of these are of high and noble families. They are better employed. No one is surprised at their disregard of etiquette, any more than at their now wearing gloves, which they never do. Such exceptions are very different from those made without excuse of duty. We have known good people who, from ignorance, or neglect of rules and usages of social life, cause religion itself to be evil spoken of. They think such things to be "conformity to the world". But the true principle is to be in the world, yet not of the world. The Christian precept, "Be courteous" covers all the innocent usages of society in our time, as it did in the days when Divine illustrations were drawn from the usages of the Jews in their feasts and marriages and other social institutions.


  1. "... at their NOT wearing gloves..."?

    "We have known good people who, from ignorance, or neglect of rules and usages of social life, cause religion itself to be evil spoken of. They think such things to be "conformity to the world"."

    What odd things people worried about. "Oh, she's too religious to be polite!" What on earth did they mean?

  2. Your guess is as good as mine, Lucy.