Many young girls conceive a dislike for society simply because they experience a mauvais honte, brought about by an ignorance of how to act under the various circumstances which arise in their intercourse with other people. They are too shy, too ashamed of their own ignorance to ask for information, and indeed often do not realise exactly what it is they want to know. Now I would counsel them to have no false shame in the matter; knowledge does not come by intuition and we are all learning up to the last day of our lives.
Knowledge brings confidence and helps to banish shyness and self-consciousness. They would do well to think as little of themselves as they can, of how they look, and what others think of them. It should be the object of their elders by their own perfect self-possession to set them as much as possible at their ease. The higher the social scale the more courtesy and the more ease of manner prevail.
One of the difficulties which young people experience is in knowing when to bow. In England, a lady by right takes the initiative, and bows first; abroad this is reversed, and English women should then follow the custom which prevails.
A young lady would do right to bow to a gentleman by whom she had been taken into dinner, or had been introduced to in any other way, but she would not bow if she had merely talked to him when casually meeting him with friends, or at a friend's house. She would naturally not go out of her way to bow even when by etiquette she was entitled so to do, but it would be gauche to avoid doing so when the opportunity naturally accorded.
A true lady should, more than all other things, take the greatest care not to wound the feelings of anybody. We meet in society for our mutual pleasure, but want of thought and good feeling often cause mortification and pain to others. Men are even more sensitive about trifles than women imagine, though a certain free-and-easyness of manner has crept in of late between the sexes, which occasionally leads to a lack of deference that it would perhaps be stilted to call a want of respect. A woman has in her own hands the power of making men treat her with friendly kindness and simple courtesy, which honours them in giving and she in receiving. If a young lady walking with her father or brother meets a gentleman known to them whom they recognise, in returning their salutation, he would raise his hat to her without knowing her, which she would acknowledge by the slightest possible motion of her head, but this would not constitute an acquaintance. Supposing she bowed to a gentleman of her acquaintance who was accompanied by a friend, he would raise his hat as well as her acquaintance. AS a rule men do not take off their hats to each other, but to ladies only. Women bowing to each other mostly do so simultaneously, but according to the strict etiquette a married lady or the one of the higher rank bows first. It is not necessary to rise when an introduction is made, unless it be to a lady of much higher social rank, and it is more courteous when introduced to an older lady for the younger one to half-rise.
A gentleman is introduced to a lady, a young lady to an old one, one of inferior rank to one of higher, and not vice versa, and it is not usual to shake hands on an introduction, but in saying good-bye, after an introduction, it would be correct.
The question of whether to introduce or not is a fruitful source of difficulty in social life. Among quite the upper ten thousand it is rarely necessary to do so, as they are mostly acquainted. In general society is requires tact and knowledge of the world to know when it is advisable to make people acquainted. In the small circles in the country it can be rarely done to advantage; but in London, if it is calculated to lead to the personal enjoyment of friends and guests at any social gathering, it is well-bred to do so, and it is a matter of choice whether such introductions lead to any real acquaintance. It is best where practicable to consult the wishes of those concerned before introducing them.
Luncheon parties are perhaps the most informal mode of entertainment. The time is from 1 to 2. The guests generally keep on their bonnets and lay their cloaks aside in the drawing-room. They proceed to the dining-room without any ceremony, and not in twos and twos as for dinner. In large establishments the servants wait throughout; but it is quite usual for them to leave after the vegetables are handed round, for the chief viands, sweets, cake, and fruit, if any, are all on the table. Should the people present not know each other they can enter into general conversation without introduction.
Five o'clock tea parties are of many kinds. If only a few friends are expected, it is served on a small tea-table placed in front of the hostess, the young ladies or the gentlemen present dispensing the cups, bread and butter, and cake. Everybody joins in the general conversation, and the entertainment is thoroughly without gene. A friendly note would be the most ordinary style of invitation, and its purport would be the best guide as to answering it. But, as a rule, it would require an answer only in the case of not being able to accept it. If the party be more numerous tea would be dispensed on a larger table in the corner of the room, the urn being set with plenty of cups and saucers, cakes, and bread and butter on a cloth embroidered round, or trimmed with lace. Many fantastic styles of adorning such cloths prevail, and change from time to time. Plates and d'oyleys are out of date.
For an afternoon party the invitations are sent out on the ordinary visiting card or on cards specially printed thus -
Mr and Mrs Brown
Tuesday afternoon, 4 to 7.
Laurel Hall, Music.
The "music" can, of course, be dispensed with. "R.S.V.P." must be added if an answer is requested, otherwise the guests do not reply, unless they are unable to come. Tea, coffee, and light refreshments are served in the dining-room.
The hostess receives her guests at the door of the drawing-room, into which they pass at once, taking vacant seats if there are any, and talking to their friends, the hostess occasionally introducing a gentleman to take a lady down for refreshments, or two people seated together, in order to secure a little pleasant conversation. But all appearance of fussiness must be avoided by the hostess, and her daughters can materially assist her. Musical parties given in the afternoon may be only amateur, or with first-rate professional artists, in which case programmes are circulated among the guests, who are expected not to indulge in conversation while singing is going on.
Garden parties held in the country and in the suburbs of London are of many kinds. At present they take most generally the form of lawn tennis parties, and the guests are often ushered at once into the gardens. The refreshments, which consist of tea, coffee, ices, fruit, cakes, biscuits, and occasionally game sandwiches, are laid either in a tent or in the dining-room. The invitations are the same as for ordinary afternoon parties, though they often have "weather permitting' in addition. More ambitious garden parties are extended to 10, 11, or 12 o'clock, a substantial cold repast being served about 7 o'clock, and a variety of entertainments arranged to amuse the guests, such as Tyrolese minstrels, performing dogs, or anything that happens to be the fashion of the moment. There should be plenty of seats and garden chairs dispersed about, and several different places indoors and out where refreshments are served. Ladies generally leave some light wraps in a room set apart for them. at the least ceremonious of afternoon parties gentlemen when they make a call take their hats into the drawing-room, but leave them in the hall in the case of a garden party or if invited to an afternoon party.
Whether to an afternoon or to any other kind of party, it is rude and bad-mannered to take friends uninvited, unless, as in the case of some country invitations, the wording of the invitation is "Mrs ____ and party." Much judgment should be exercised at all times in asking for invitations for friends. AS a rule, people have a large circle of their own, which they do not desire to extend, and in asking for such invitations it should be always made clear that the hostess will not be affronting the asker by refusing. Mothers with large families should not take more than two daughters if the invitation is for "The Misses ____", and some hostesses ask but one.
Evening parties are also of various kinds, but the invitations take the same form as for the afternoon, except where the hostess prefer to send friendly notes. They need not be answered unless "R.S.V.P." is upon them, and then as quickly as possible.
An "at-home" may mean merely conversation, when the hours are from 8 or 9. Light refreshments are served down-stairs, and sometimes a supper, sometimes a concert, is given. Then it behoves a guest to be punctual.
It is not necessary to say good-night to the hostess before leaving, as it tends sometimes to break up the party.
For dinner parties it behoves the guests to be punctual, that is to come to the hour or half-hour, whether the invitation be for the quarter to or for the time exactly. The gentlemen are introduced to the ladies they take down, and they proceed to the dining-room, the host with the lady of the highest rank going first, the hostess last with the gentleman of highest rank. The guests are seated according to a pre-arranged plan, the ladies removing their gloves as soon as they are seated; gentlemen do not wear them at dinner parties. It is usual, whether introduced or not, to talk to people seated on either side. Dinner parties are now universally served a la Russe, so that, being well taken care of in the matter of food, which is in the hand of the servants, the host does not press his guests to partake of anything.