The etiquette of the ball-room being disposed of, let us now enter slightly into that of an evening party.
The invitations issued and accepted for an evening party will be written in the same style as those already described for a dinner-party. They should be sent out at least three weeks before the day fixed for the event, and should be replied to within a week of their receipt, accepting or declining with regrets. By attending to these courtesies, the guests will have time to consider their engagements and prepare their dresses, and the hostess will also know what will be the number of her party.
A lady, invited to an evening party, may request a gentleman to accompany her, even though he may not have received an invitation from the hostess.
In most of the American cities nine o’clock is the hour which custom has established as the time for the lady to be in her parlor, ready to receive her guests, and by ten o’clock all the guests should arrive. It is an affectation, not entirely devoid of assumption and impudence, for people to purposely delay their appearance till a very late hour.
As the ladies and gentlemen arrive, each should be shown to a room exclusively provided for their reception; and the gentleman conducts the lady in his charge to the door of the ladies’ dressing-room, while he goes to the gentlemen’s apartment, each to prepare their toilet suitably to entering the reception-room.
In the room set apart for the ladies, attendants should be in waiting to assist in uncloaking, and helping to arrange the hair and toilet of those who require it.
After completing her toilet, the lady waits at the door of her dressing-room till the gentleman joins her, and they make theirentrée together.
In large and formal parties, it is generally customary for the servant to announce the names of the guests as they enter the room, but this is a ceremony well enough dispensed with, except on occasions of very large and formal parties.
It is the business of the lady of the house to be near the door to receive her guests; if she is not there, you need not go hunting through the crowd after her.
As the guests enter the room, it is not necessary for the lady of the house to advance each time toward the door, but merely to rise from her seat to receive their courtesies and congratulations. If, indeed, the hostess wishes to show particular favor to some peculiarly honored guests, she may introduce them to others, whose acquaintance she may imagine will be especially suitable and agreeable.
It is very often the practice of the gentleman of the house to introduce one gentleman to another, but occasionally the lady performs this office; when it will, of course, be polite for the persons thus introduced to take their seats together for the time being.
When entering a private ball or party, the visitor should invariably bow to the company. No well-bred person would omit this courtesy in entering a drawing-room; and although the entrance to a large assembly may be unnoticed by all present, its observance is not the less necessary. It is the thoughtless absence of good manners in large and mixed companies, where a greater degree of studied politeness is indispensable, that renders them sometimes so unpleasant.
A separate room or convenient buffet should be appropriated for refreshments, and to which the dancers may retire; and cakes and biscuits, with lemonade, handed round.
Of course a supper is provided at all private parties; and this requires, on the part of the hostess, a great deal of attention and supervision. It usually takes place between the first and second parts of the programme of the dances, of which there should be several prettily written or printed copies distributed about the room.
It will be well for the hostess, even if she be very partial to the amusement, and a graceful dancer, not to participate in it to any great extent, lest her lady guests should have occasion to complain of her monopoly of the gentlemen, and other causes of neglect.
A few dances will suffice to show her interest in the entertainment, without unduly trenching on the attention due to her guests.
The hostess or host, during the progress of a party, will courteously accost and chat with their friends, and take care that the ladies are furnished with seats, and that those who wish to dance are provided with partners. A gentle hint from the hostess, conveyed in a quiet ladylike manner, that certain ladies have remained unengaged during several dances, is sure not to be neglected by any gentleman. Thus will be studied the comfort and enjoyment of the guests, and no lady, in leaving the house, will be able to feel the chagrin and disappointment of not having been invited to “stand up” in a dance during the whole evening.
For any of the members, either sons or daughters, of the family at whose house the party is given, to dance frequently or constantly, denotes decided ill-breeding. The ladies of the house should not occupy those places in a quadrille which others may wish to fill, and they should, moreover, be at leisure to attend to the rest of the company; and the gentlemen should be entertaining the married ladies and those who do not dance.
In private parties, a lady is not to refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she be previously engaged. The hostess must be supposed to have asked to her house only those persons whom she knows to be perfectly respectable and of unblemished character, as well as pretty equal in position; and thus, to decline the offer of any gentleman present, would be a tacit reflection on the gentleman or lady of the house.
If one lady refuses you, do not ask another who is seated near her to dance the same set. Do not go immediately to another lady, but chat a few moments with the one whom you first invited, and then join a group or gentlemen friends for a few moments, before seeking another partner.
In private parties, where dancing is the chief part of the evening’s entertainment, it is not in conformity with the rules of etiquette for a young lady to dance with one gentleman repeatedly, to the exclusion of all others who may solicit her hand, even though the favored individual be her suitor. However complimentary to the lady, to be the recipient of a gentleman’s undivided attentions, or however gratifying it may be for him to manifest his devotion to the lady of his choice, such a course is an exhibition of selfishness which ought not to be displayed in an assemblage of ladies and gentlemen who have congregated for mutual enjoyment.
It is not considered comme il faut to ask a married lady to dance, when her husband is present, without previously ascertaining whether it be agreeable to him.
Gentlemen will not get together in groups to the neglect of the ladies.
The members of an invited family should never be seen conversing with each other at a party.
If you accompany your wife to a dancing party, be careful not to dance with her, except perhaps the first set.
Where there are no programmes, engagements should not be made until the dance is announced.
When the dance is over, the gentleman conducts his partner to her seat; and, unless he chooses to sit beside her, bows and withdraws.
While dancing, a lady should consider herself engaged to her partner, and therefore not at liberty to hold a flirtation, between the figures, with another gentleman; and should recollect that it is the gentleman’s part to lead her, and hers to follow his directions.
In a circle, we should not pass before a lady; neither should we present anything by extending the arm over her, but pass round behind and present it. In case we cannot do it, we say, I ask your pardon, etc.
In ascending a staircase with ladies, go at their side or before them.
A correct ear for music does not pertain to every one, and those who are deficient in this respect should refrain from dancing. Let not the unpracticed dancer attempt quadrilles. A novice necessarily perplexes and annoys a partner. On the other hand, nowhere perhaps has a kindly disposition more pleasing opportunities of conferring small benefits than in a ball-room. Those who are expert in dancing may gently apprise the unskillful of an error, and this without giving the slightest offense, or seeming to dictate; while such as dance well, and are solicited to dance, should carefully avoid speaking of it. They ought rather to seek to contribute to less fortunate persons a full share in the evening’s amusement. A lady may do this by gently hinting to a gentleman who solicits her hand for another dance, that such a lady has remained unengaged. No gentleman will neglect such a suggestion.
There is a custom which is sometimes practiced both in the assembly room and at private parties, which cannot be too strongly reprehended; we allude to the habit of ridicule and ungenerous criticism of those who are ungraceful or otherwise obnoxious to censure, which is indulged in by the thoughtless, particularly among the dancers. Of its gross impropriety and vulgarity we need hardly express an opinion; but there is such an utter disregard for the feelings of others implied in this kind of negative censorship, that we cannot forbear to warn our young readers to avoid it. The “Koran” says: “Do not mock—the mocked may be better than the mocker.” Those you condemn may not have had the same advantages as yourself in acquiring grace or dignity, while they may be infinitely superior in purity of heart and mental accomplishments. The advice of Chesterfield to his son, in his commerce with society, to do as you would be done by, is founded on the Christian precept, and worthy of commendation. Imagine yourself the victim of another’s ridicule, and you will cease to indulge in a pastime which only gains for you the hatred of those you satirize, if they chance to observe you, and the contempt of others who have noticed your violation of politeness, and abuse of true sociality.
We conclude our strictures on this subject with the following passage from the essays of Addison: “But what an absurd thing it is, to pass over all the valuable characteristics of individuals, and fix our attention on their infirmities—to observe their imperfections more than their virtues—and to make use of them for the sport of others, rather than for our own improvement.”
In whatever relation with the fair sex, and under whatsoever circumstances, it is the duty—we may add, the practice—of a gentleman to so deport himself as to avoid giving any cause of offense.
In private parties, where people meet for the pleasure of conversation, remember occasionally to change your place. Opportunities will readily occur, such, for instance, as the opening of a portfolio of prints, or the showing of any article of taste or science. You will thus avoid the awkwardness of being either left alone, or constraining the master or mistress of the house to commiserate your isolated condition.
If you are asked by the lady of the house, at an evening party, to sing, and you can really do so well, comply at once; but never sing at the request of another person. If you cannot or do not choose to sing, say so at once with seriousness and gravity, and put an end to the expectation promptly. After singing once or twice, cease and give place to others.
When singing or playing is going on, if you have no taste for music, you should still be profoundly silent. To converse, is annoying to the rest of the company, rude to the mistress of the house, and cruel to the performer.
Carefully avoid all peculiarities of manner; and every wish to show off, or to absorb conversation to yourself. Be also very careful not to appear to be wiser than the company. If a fact in history is mentioned, even if it be not quite correct, do not set the narrator right, unless in a very delicate and submissive manner. If an engraving of distant scenery or foreign buildings is shown, do not industriously point out inaccuracies. It may be that such occur, but finding fault is never acceptable; it conveys a censure on the taste or information of the possessor; or it suggests that he has been imposed upon—an idea which is always productive of mortification. Such attempts to appear wiser than the rest of the company, interfere with the pleasure of the party, and the person who falls into them is never long acceptable.
People sometimes say, that they are not invited to parties; they complain of neglect, and are out of humor with the world. Let such persons consider whether they have not brought upon themselves the neglect which they deplore.
Should the guests be numerous, and the space scarcely sufficient for their accommodation, it would be considered extremely ill-bred to take a place previously engaged; or, when joining a country dance, to push in at the middle or upper end. You must take your station below the last couple who are standing up.
If there be a supper, the gentleman should conduct to the supper-room his last partner, unless he have a prior engagement, or is asked by the host to do otherwise. In the latter case, he should provide his partner with a substitute, at the same time making a handsome apology.
No gentleman should offer his services to conduct a lady home, without being acquainted with her, unless he have been requested so to do by the host.
When any of the carriages of the guests are announced, or the time for their departure arrived, they should make a slight intimation to the hostess, without, however, exciting any observation, that they are about to depart. If this cannot be done without creating too much bustle, it will be better for the visitors to retire quietly without saying good-night, for when people are seen to be leaving, it often breaks up the party. An opportunity, however, may previously be sought of intimating to the hostess your intention to retire, which is more respectful.
During the course of the week, the hostess will expect to receive from every guest a call, where it is possible, or cards expressing the gratification experienced from her entertainment. This attention is due to every lady for the pains and trouble she has been at, and tends to promote social, kindly feelings.