Monday, November 21, 2016

Calling or Visitation 19th Century Etiquette

Below is an excerpt from "Etiquette for Americans" ©1898

After introductions, visits—as we commonly term them in this country, "calls"—come next in preliminary sequence. To "make a call" has an inelegant robustness of tone to one not used to hearing it; but Americans cannot plead that they are not used to hearing it. And the expression is not only general, but universal here. "Paying visits," the neat substitute for the rougher phrase, is not yet in colloquial use.

Visiting or calling hours are now limited, and most sensibly, to a restricted time in the afternoon. No one not privileged, on pressing business, or extremely intimate, would think of invading a household before three o'clock. And as it is only of formal visiting we are speaking—"running in" to friends' or neighbors' houses familiarly need not be mentioned in connection with the subject. So great a nuisance did the old-fashioned habit of callers, of spreading themselves thereon whole days, some people calling in the mornings, others in the afternoons, still others evenings, and all on any day in the week, become, that the custom of restricting hours to certain parts of days, and then to certain days of the week, was started in self-preservation; and now, in large cities, is general. No one can be offended who is refused at half-past two on a Tuesday, when "Mondays, three to six," is plainly engraven on a carte de visite. The hostess, on the other hand, who excuses herself within these limits, will find it hard to make her peace with disgusted visitors, who have stretched a point to conform to restrictions made by the offender herself.
It is a good rule to stay only fifteen minutes at a formal, at any rate a first call, unless, of course, urged to stay longer for some special reason. It is an equally good rule to depart as the room becomes crowded and talking grows more difficult, at all events, to relinquish one's place near the hostess. Tea is universally served on calling days in all well-regulated houses; but if you are obliged to go very early, say at three o'clock, it is good form to decline the offer of tea made specially for you, not only because of the TEA TOO EARLY
unseasonable hour, but because it makes a great deal of trouble. This sounds like superfluous advice; but most persons who go out calling much will relate at least one instance of some absent-minded female, who, straying in without regard to the time, accepts the offer of tea at three o'clock, waits till it comes in, and then departs—finding how early it is—without drinking a drop. Of such is the kingdom of callers.

'' Little speeches'' are now ruled out pretty generally in the routine of calling. It is foolish to pretend that "calling" is more than routine; and the more quietly one enters, and the more unobtrusively departs, the better pleased will the hostess be. Above all, don't keep her standing an hour, while you lecture or "orate," or go over somebody's history, while everybody else sits about looking foolish.

Put your card on a convenient place in the hall, or on the tray the servant holds out for you, and mention your name to the manservant, if there is one. A man or a maid usually takes the card on a tray, and stands holding the curtains (perhaps) aside, for yon to enter, speaking your name audibly at the same time. Sending or taking the card in before you to the drawing-room on "afternoons," is obsolete.

A man does exactly the same as a woman, except that he takes off his overcoat, if he wears one, in the hall. His hat and stick he also deposits outside. This rule is not generally observed, but should be. The drawingroom is no place for the hat; and of course the hat and stick go and stay together.

A man in this country must be asked to call, before he may venture to do so. To take away the awkwardness or suspicion of forwardness from such an act, it may be stated that a lady usually knows when a gentleman wishes to call, and if he has been out of his way to be civil to her, she is safe in asking him. He then calls as soon as possible after the invitation is given. After that, if it is a family of much entertaining, he will receive, if his visit has been agreeable, an invitation to dinner. After that, again, he calls within a week, and then he may be summoned for informal occasions, etc. He is an acquaintance.
This rule is not for young girls, whose mothers must do the asking.

Business men cannot pay visits very easily in the afternoons. In these days, however, a man, on an ordinary week day, is allowed to call in a brown, blue or any colored coat, fancy waistcoat, and derby hat. And he can be admitted up to six o'clock. He, therefore, will usually be able to find half an hour out of the week; and there is always Sunday. Few houses are closed to visitors Sunday afternoons. There is really no excuse for men's delinquencies, especially, and above all, if they have accepted invitations or favors of any sort from ladies.

In dealing with the subject of visiting in general, the receiving party is always a woman, of course. Men receive visits from men at their club, or their offices, and in England, and now possibly in New York, there is a distinct etiquette for these ceremonies. And in that respect, of amenities between men, we should do well to learn from our British cousins. The slapdash and freedom of many men's friendly calls in business offices is disgusting and without palliation. No decent man has a right to see a stranger in his shirtsleeves, with his hat on, and his feet on the table. In England a man would no more keep his hat on in another man's office than in his wife's drawing-room; and it would be well if that one formality were observed and enforced here.

But as for formal visiting among men, it is never done at their houses, if they are married. That is to say, it is always the wife who receives, not the husband. He goes out, if he has any sense, and makes calls himself. For we have borrowed another sensible custorn from England; and that is that when a gentleman, no matter if he is married, has received hospitality at a lady's hands, he is quite capable of paying a visit to show his personal appreciation. It is not necessary for a man to relegate all the visiting to his wife.

The imposing and important question of its being necessary to call (and thus return your own visit!) after a five o'clock tea, or at home, is not mooted in communities where there is any knowledge of society modes. But as in some small towns, and some large cities, of provincial experience only, the point is everlastingly being raised, it may as well be said once, and for all, that it is an utter absurdity to feel obliged to make one call after another. The rash person who issues eight hundred invitations to a tea, has eight hundred calls to return; and if she does not know this simple fact she has been more than rash, she has been ignorant. An exception may be made, as it always is made in any case, for that matter, in favor of old or delicate ladies, who cannot return eight hundred calls; and sometimes, when the hostess makes a special occasion of a tea, and has a set programme of music. But even then calling again is a gratuitous civility, and by no means expected.
You announce that you will be at home between certain hours; your friends, in walking costume, wait upon you. In the words of a slang phrase, it is "up to you;" and yours is the next move.

Nothing excuses delay in returning a first visit within a few days but going out of town, or illness. Nothing can be taken in place of a call after a dinner, a luncheon, a supper, or theaterparty, unless, as said before, you are ill or out of town. A card may be sent with a word of regret, and nothing is as easy, really, as attention of this kind, which invariably pleases the recipient Club life and bicycling, and many other informal matters, have modified the obligation of persons who meet constantly; but it is always better to overdo the polite than to underdo it; and a call after each and every act of civility is a neat courtesy for a woman to pay, and indispensable for a man.

No comments:

Post a Comment