The morning party is a modern invention. It was unknown to our fathers and mothers, and even to ourselves till quite lately. A morning party is seldom given out of the season—that is to say, during any months except those of May, June, and July. It begins about two o’clock and ends about five, and the entertainment consists for the most part of conversation, music, and (if there be a garden) croquet, lawn billiards, archery, &c. “Aunt Sally” is now out of fashion. The refreshments are given in the form of a dejeuner a la fourchette.
Elegant morning dress, general good manners, and some acquaintance with the topics of the day and the games above named, are all the qualifications especially necessary to a lady at a morning party.
An evening party begins about nine o’clock p.m., and ends about midnight, or somewhat later. Good breeding neither demands that you should present yourself at the commencement, nor remain till the close of the evening. You come and go as may be most convenient to you, and by these means are at liberty, during the height of the season when evening parties are numerous, to present yourself at two or three houses during a single evening.
When your name is announced, look for the lady of the house, and pay your respects to her before you even seem to see any other of your friends who may be in the room. At very large and fashionable receptions, the hostess is generally to be found near the door. Should you, however, find yourself separated by a dense crowd of guests, you are at liberty to recognize those who are near you, and those whom you encounter as you make your way slowly through the throng.
General salutations of the company are now wholly disused. In society a lady only recognizes her own friends and acquaintances.
If you are at the house of a new acquaintance and find yourself among entire strangers, remember that by so meeting under one roof you are all in a certain sense made known to one another, and should, therefore, converse freely, as equals. To shrink away to a side-table and affect to be absorbed in some album or illustrated work; or, if you find one unlucky acquaintance in the room, to fasten upon her like a drowning man clinging to a spar, are gaucheries which no shyness can excuse.
If you possess any musical accomplishments, do not wait to be pressed and entreated by your hostess, but comply immediately when she pays you the compliment of inviting you to play or sing. Remember, however, that only the lady of the house has the right to ask you. If others do so, you can put them off in some polite way; but must not comply till the hostess herself invites you.
Be scrupulous to observe silence when any of the company are playing or singing. Remember that they are doing this for the amusement of the rest; and that to talk at such a time is as ill-bred as if you were to turn your back upon a person who was talking to you, and begin a conversation with some one else.
If you are yourself the performer, bear in mind that in music, as in speech, “brevity is the soul of wit.” Two verses of a song, or four pages of a piece, are at all times enough to give pleasure. If your audience desire more they will ask for more; and it is infinitely more flattering to be encored than to receive the thanks of your hearers, not so much in gratitude for what you have given them, but in relief that you have left off. You should try to suit your music, like your conversation, to your company. A solo of Beethoven’s would be as much out of place in some circles as a comic song at a Quakers'’ meeting. To those who only care for the light popularities of the season, give Balfe and Verdi, Glover and Julien. To connoisseurs, if you perform well enough to venture, give such music as will be likely to meet the exigencies of a fine taste. Above all, attempt nothing that you cannot execute with ease and precision.
If the party be of a small and social kind, and those games called by the French les jeux innocents are proposed, do not object to join in them when invited. It maybe that they demand some slight exercise of wit and readiness, and that you do not feel yourself calculated to shine in them; but it is better to seem dull than disagreeable, and those who are obliging can always find some clever neighbor to assist them in the moment of need.
Impromptu charades are frequently organized at friendly parties. Unless you have really some talent for acting and some readiness of speech, you should remember that you only put others out and expose your own inability by taking part in these entertainments. Of course, if your help is really needed, and you would disoblige by refusing, you must do your best, and by doing it as quietly and coolly as possible, avoid being awkward or ridiculous.
Even though you may take no pleasure in cards, some knowledge of the etiquette and rules belonging to the games most in vogue is necessary to you in society. If a fourth hand is wanted at a rubber, or if the rest of the company sit down to a round game, you would be deemed guilty of an impoliteness if you refused to join.
The games most commonly played in society are whist, loo, vingt-et-un, and speculation.
Whist requires four players. A pack of cards being spread upon the table with their faces downwards, the four players draw for partners. Those who draw the two highest cards and those who draw the two lowest become partners. The lowest of all claims the deal.
Married people should not play at the same table, unless where the party is so small that it cannot be avoided. This rule supposes nothing so disgraceful to any married couple as dishonest collusion; but persons who play regularly together cannot fail to know so much of each other’s mode of acting, under given circumstances, that the chances no longer remain perfectly even in favor of their adversaries.
Never play for higher stakes than you can afford to lose without regret. Cards should be resorted to for amusement only; for excitement, never.
No well-bred person ever loses temper at the card-table. You have no right to sit down to the game unless you can bear a long run of ill-luck with perfect composure, and are prepared cheerfully to pass over any blunders that your partner may chance to make.
If you are an indifferent player, make a point of saying so before you join a party at whist. If the others are fine players they will be infinitely more obliged to you for declining than accepting their invitation. In any case you have no right to spoil their pleasure by your bad play.
Never let even politeness induce you to play for very high stakes. Etiquette is the minor morality of life; but it never should be allowed to outweigh the higher code of right and wrong.
Young ladies may decline to play at cards without being deemed guilty of impoliteness.
No very young lady should appear at an evening party without an escort.
In retiring from a crowded party it is unnecessary that you should seek out the hostess for the purpose of bidding her a formal good-night. By doing this you would, perhaps, remind others that it was getting late, and cause the party to break up. If you meet the lady of the house on your way to the drawing-room door, take your leave of her as unobtrusively as possible, and slip away without attracting the attention of her other guests.
Original text by George Routledge, edited and revised by D. J. McAdam - this text © 2005. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
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