How To Be Polite, Well-Mannered, and Ladylike or Gentlemanly

VISITING.

Next in order to the ceremonials of dinner or evening parties, are customary calls, comprised under the general head of visiting. They are those of ceremony, friendship, or condolence, and occupy no small portion of time.

Such visits are necessary, in order to maintain good feeling between the members of society; they are required by the custom of the age in which we live, and must be carefully attended to.

First, then, are visits of ceremony, merging occasionally into those of friendship, but uniformly required after dining at a friend’s house. Professional men are not however, in general, expected to pay such visits, because their time is preoccupied; but they form almost the only exception.

Visits of ceremony must be necessarily short. They should on no account be made before the hour, nor yet during the time of luncheon. Persons who intrude themselves at unwonted hours are never welcome; the lady of the house does not like to be disturbed when she is perhaps dining with her children; and the servants justly complain of being interrupted at the hour when they assemble for their noon-day meal. Ascertain, therefore, which you can readily do, what is the family hour for luncheon, and act accordingly.

Half an hour amply suffices for a visit of ceremony. If the visitor be a lady, she may remove her victorine, but on no account either the shawl or bonnet, even if politely requested to do so by the mistress of the house. Some trouble is necessarily required in replacing them, and this ought to be avoided. If, however, your visit of ceremony is to a particular friend, the case is different; but even then, it is best to wait till you are invited to do so; and when you rise for the purpose the lady of the house will assist you.

Favorite dogs are never welcome visitors in a drawing-room. Many people have even a dislike to such animals. They require watching, lest they should leap upon a chair or sofa, or place themselves upon a lady’s dress, and attentions of this kind are much out of place. Neither ought a mother, when paying a ceremonial visit, to be accompanied by young children. It is frequently difficult to amuse them, and, if not particularly well trained at home, they naturally seize hold of books, or those ornaments with which it is fashionable to decorate a drawing-room. The lady of the house trembles for the fate of a beautiful shell, or vase, or costly book. She does not like to express her uneasiness, and yet knows not how to refrain. Therefore leave the children at home; or, if they accompany you in the carriage, let them remain till your visit is over. If you have an infant, the nurse may await your return, or be left in an ante-room, unless a decided request be made to the contrary.

If during your short visit the conversation begins to flag, it will be best to retire. The lady of the house may have some engagement at a fixed hour, and by remaining even a few minutes longer, she may be put to serious inconvenience. Do not, however, seem to notice any silent hint, by rising hastily; but take leave with quiet politeness, as if your time were fully expired. When other visitors are announced, retire as soon as possible, and yet without letting it appear that their arrival is the cause. Wait till the bustle of their entrance is over, and then rise from your chair, take leave of the hostess, and bow politely to the guests. By so doing you will save the lady of the house from being obliged to entertain two sets of visitors.

Should you call by chance at an inconvenient hour, when perhaps the lady is going out, or sitting down to luncheon, retire as soon as possible, even if politely asked to remain. You need not let it appear that you feel yourself an intruder; every well-bred or even good-tempered person knows what to say on such an occasion; but politely withdraw, with a promise to call again, if the lady seems to be really disappointed.

If your acquaintance or friend is from home, leave a card,1 whether you call in a carriage or not. If in the latter, the servant will answer your inquiry, and receive your card; but on no account ask leave to go in and rest; neither urge your wish if you fancy that the lady whom you desire to see is really at home, or even if you flatter yourself that she would make an exception in your favor. Some people think that the form of words, “Not at home,” is readily understood to mean that the master or mistress of the house have no wish to see even his or her most intimate friends. However this may be, take care that you do not attempt to effect an entrance.

1When the caller is about to leave the city for a protracted absence, it is usual to put the letters P. P. C. in the left hand corner of the card; they are the initials of the French phrase, “pour prendre congé“—to take leave, and may with equal propriety stand for presents parting compliments.

Visits of courtesy or ceremony are uniformly paid at Christmas, or at the commencement of a new year, independently of family parties; a good old custom, the observance of which is always pleasing, and which should be carefully attended to. It is uniformly right to call on patrons, or those from whom kindness has been received.

In visiting your intimate friends, ceremony may generally be dispensed with.

Keep a strict account of your ceremonial visits. This is needful, because time passes rapidly; and take note how soon your calls are returned. You will thus be able, in most cases, to form an opinion whether or not your frequent visits are desired. Instances may however occur, when, in consequence of age or ill health, it is desirable that you should call, without any reference to your visits being returned. When desirous to act thus, remember that, if possible, nothing should interrupt the discharge of this duty.

Among relations and intimate friends, visits of mere ceremony are unnecessary. It is, however, needful to call at suitable times, and to avoid staying too long if your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society, as already noticed, must ever be maintained, even in the domestic circle, or among the nearest friends.

In leaving cards you must thus distribute them: one for the lady of the house and her daughters—the latter are sometimes represented by turning up the edge of the card—one for the master of the house, and if there be a grown up son or a near male relation staying in the house, one for him. But though cards are cheap, you must never leave more than three at a time at the same house. As married men have, or are supposed to have, too much to do to make ceremonial calls, it is the custom for a wife to take her husband’s cards with her and to leave one or two of them with her own. If, on your inquiring for the lady of the house, the servant replies, “Mrs. So-and-so is not at home, but Miss So-and-so is,” you should leave a card, because young ladies do not receive calls from gentlemen unless they are very intimate with them, or have passed the rubicon of thirty summers. It must be remembered, too, that where there is a lady of the house, your call is to her, not to her husband, except on business.

Morning calls may be divided into three heads: Those paid at the time already specified; weekly visits to intimate friends, or by young persons to those advanced in life; and monthly visits, which are generally ceremonious.

With respect to the first, be very careful that you do not acquire the character of a day goblin. A day goblin is one of those persons who, having plenty of leisure, and a great desire to hear themselves talk, make frequent inroads into their friends’ houses. Though perhaps well acquainted with the rules of etiquette, they call at the most unseasonable hours. If the habits of the family are early, you will find them in the drawing-room at eleven o’clock. It may be they are agreeable and well-informed people; but who wishes for calls at such a strange hour! Most families have their rules and occupations. In one, the lady of the house attends to the education of her children; in another, domestic affairs engross a portion of the morning; some ladies are fond of gardening, others of music or painting. It is past endurance to have such pursuits broken in upon for the sake of a day goblin, who, having gained access, inflicts his or her presence till nearly luncheon time, and then goes off with saying, “Well, I have paid you a long visit;” or “I hope that I have not stayed too long.”

A well-bred person always receives visitors at whatever time they may call, or whoever they may be; but if you are occupied and cannot afford to be interrupted by a mere ceremony, you should instruct the servant beforehand to say that you are “not at home.” This form has often been denounced as a falsehood, but a lie is no lie unless intended to deceive; and since the words are universally understood to mean that you are engaged, it can be no harm to give such an order to a servant. But, on the other hand,if the servant once admits a visitor within the hall, you should receive him at any inconvenience to yourself. A lady should never keep a visitor waiting more than a minute, or two at the most, and if she cannot avoid doing so, must apologize on entering the drawing-room.

In good society, a visitor, unless he is a complete stranger, does not wait to be invited to sit down, but takes a seat at once easily. A gentleman should never take the principal place in the room, nor, on the other hand, sit at an inconvenient distance from the lady of the house. He must hold his hat gracefully, not put it on a chair or table, or, if he wants to use both hands, must place it on the floor close to his chair. A well-bred lady, who is receiving two or three visitors at a time, pays equal attention to all, and attempts, as much as possible, to generalize the conversation, turning to all in succession. The last arrival, however, receives a little more attention at first than the others, and the latter, to spare her embarrasment, should leave as soon as convenient. People who out-sit two or three parties of visitors, unless they have some particular motive for doing so, come under the denomination of “bores.” A “bore” is a person who does not know when you have had enough of his or her company.

Be cautious how you take an intimate friend uninvited even to the house of those with whom you may be equally intimate, as there is always a feeling of jealousy that another should share your thoughts and feelings to the same extent as themselves, although good breeding will induce them to behave civilly to your friend on your account.

Ladies in the present day are allowed considerable license in paying and receiving visits; subject, however, to certain rules, which it is needful to define.

Young married ladies may visit their acquaintances alone; but they may not appear in any public places unattended by their husbands or elder ladies. This rule must never be infringed, whether as regards exhibitions, or public libraries, museums, or promenades; but a young married lady is at liberty to walk with her friends of the same age, whether married or single. Gentlemen are permitted to call on married ladies at their own houses. Such calls the usages of society permit, but never without the knowledge and full permission of husbands.

Ladies may walk unattended in the streets, being careful to pass on as becomes their station—neither with a hurried pace, nor yet affecting to move slowly. Shop-windows, in New York especially, afford great attractions; but it is by no means desirable to be seen standing before them, and most assuredly not alone. Be careful never to look back, nor to observe too narrowly the dresses of such ladies as may pass you. Should any one venture to address you, take no heed, seem not to hear, but hasten your steps. Be careful to reach home in good time. Let nothing ever induce you to be out after dusk, or when the lamps are lighted. Nothing but unavoidable necessity can sanction such acts of impropriety.

Lastly, a lady never calls on a gentleman, unless professionally or officially. It is not only ill-bred, but positively improper to do so. At the same time, there is a certain privilege in age, which makes it possible for an old bachelor like myself to receive a visit from any married lady whom I know very intimately, but such a call would certainly not be one of ceremony, and always presupposes a desire to consult me on some point or other. I should be guilty of shameful treachery, however, if I told any one that I had received such a visit, while I should certainly expect that my fair caller would let her husband know of it.

When morning visitors are announced, rise and advance toward them. If a lady enters, request her to be seated on a sofa; but if advanced in life, or the visitor be an elderly gentleman, insist on their accepting an easy chair, and place yourself, by them. If several ladies arrive at the same time, pay due respect to age and rank, and seat them in the most honorable places; these, in winter, are beside the fire.

Supposing that a young lady occupies such a seat, and a lady older than herself, or superior in condition, enters the room, she must rise immediately, and having courteously offered her place to the new comer, take another in a different part of the room.

If a lady is engaged with her needle when a visitor arrives, she ought to discontinue her work, unless requested to do otherwise: and not even then must it be resumed, unless on very intimate terms with her acquaintance. When this, however, is the case, the hostess may herself request permission to do so. To continue working during a visit of ceremony would be extremely discourteous; and we cannot avoid hinting to our lady readers, that even when a particular friend is present for only a short time, it is somewhat inconsistent with etiquette to keep their eyes fixed on a crochet or knitting-book, apparently engaged in counting stitches, or unfolding the intricacies of a pattern. We have seen this done, and are, therefore, careful to warn them on the subject. There are many kinds of light and elegant, and even useful work, which do not require close attention, and may be profitably pursued; and such we recommend to be always on the work-table at those hours which, according to established practice, are given to social intercourse.

It is generally customary in the country to offer refreshment to morning visitors. If they come from a considerable distance, and are on intimate terms, hospitality requires that you should invite them to take luncheon. In town it is otherwise, and you are not expected to render any courtesy of the kind, except to aged or feeble persons, or to some one who, perhaps, is in affliction, and to whom the utmost kindliness should be shown.

When your visitor is about to take leave, rise, and accompany her to the door, mindful, at the same time, that the bell is rung, in order that a servant may be in attendance. If the master of the house is present, and a lady is just going away, he must offer her his arm, and lead her to the hall or passage door. If her carriage be in waiting, he will, of course, hand her into it. These attentions are slight, and some persons may think they are scarcely worth noticing. Nevertheless, they are important, and we are the more earnest to press them on the attention of our readers, because we have witnessed the omission of such acts of courtesy in families where a very different mode of conduct might be expected.

And here, turning aside for a brief space from the subject-matter of our discourse, we desire earnestly to impress upon mothers who have sons growing up, the great importance of early imbuing them with the principles of true politeness, and consequent attention to its most trifling observances. What matters it if a tall lad pushes into a room before one of his mother’s visitors; or, if he chance to see her going into church, instead of holding the door in a gentlemanly manner, he lets it swing in her face when he has himself entered; or whether he comes into the drawing-room with his hat on, unobservant of lady visitors, or lolls in an arm-chair reading the newspaper?

“What signifies it?” some will say—”why tease a youth about such matters? He will learn manners as he grows up.” We think otherwise, and do not scruple to affirm, that he can never learn real gentlemanly politeness from any one but his mother. The neglect of small courtesies in early life, and the outward or mental boorishness to which it leads, has been, to our certain knowledge, a more fruitful source of wretchedness in many homes, than we have either time or inclination to relate.

In this changing world, visits of condolence must be also occasionally paid; and concerning such, a few necessary rules may be briefly stated.

Visits of condolence should be paid within a week after the event which occasions them; but if the acquaintance be slight, immediately after the family appear at public worship. A card should be sent up; and if your friends are able to receive you, let your manners and conversation be in harmony with the character of your visit. It is courteous to send up a mourning card; and for ladies to make their calls in black silk or plain-colored apparel. It denotes that they sympathize with the afflictions of the family; and such attentions are always pleasing.

Gentlemen will do well to bear in mind that, when they pay morning calls, they must carry their hats with them into the drawing-room; but on no account put them on the chairs or table. There is a graceful manner of holding a hat, which every well-bred man understands.

When calling upon a friend who is boarding, do not go up till the servant returns with an invitation; and never enter a room without previously knocking at the door, and receiving an invitation to come in. Such observances are indispensable, even between the nearest friends.

A gentleman when calling upon a lady, and finding that one of her lady friends is with her, must rise when the visitor takes her leave, and accompany her to the hall door; or if she has a carriage, he should hand her into it—supposing, however, that no gentleman related to the mistress of the house be present. If your visit has been of sufficient length, you can take your leave when accompanying the lady out of the room.

It happens occasionally that two persons are visiting different members of the same family. When this occurs, and one visitor takes leave, the lady or gentleman whose visitor has just left should remain in the drawing-room. It is considered discourteous to do otherwise.

In most families in this country, evening calls are the most usual. Should you chance to visit a family, and find that they have a party, present yourself, and converse for a few minutes with an unembarrassed air; after which you may retire, unless urged to remain. A slight invitation, given for the sake of courtesy, ought not to be accepted. Make no apology for your unintentional intrusion; but let it be known, in the course of a few days, that you were not aware that your friends had company.

An excellent custom prevails in some families of inviting their guests for a given period. Thus, for example, an invitation is sent, stating that a friend’s company is requested on a certain day, mentioning also for what length of time, and if a carriage cannot be offered to meet the visitor, stating expressly the best mode of coming and going. We recommend this admirable plan to the master and mistress of every dwelling which is sufficiently capacious to admit of receiving an occasional guest. A young lady is perhaps invited to spend a little time in the country, but she cannot possibly understand whether the invitation extends to a few days, or a week, or a month, and consequently is much puzzled with regard to the arrangement of her wardrobe. Domestic consultations are held; the letter is read over and over again; every one gives a different opinion, and when the visit is entered upon, somewhat of its pleasure is marred through the embarrassment occasioned by not knowing when to propose taking leave.

In receiving guests, your first object should be to make them feel at home. Begging them to make themselves at home is not sufficient. You should display a genuine unaffected friendliness. Whether you are mistress of a mansion or a cottage, and invite a friend to share your hospitality, you must endeavor, by every possible means, to render the visit agreeable. This should be done without apparent effort, that the visitor may feel herself to be a partaker in your home enjoyments, instead of finding that you put yourself out of the way to procure extraneous pleasures. It is right and proper that you seek to make the time pass lightly; but if, on the other hand, you let a visitor perceive that the whole tenor of your daily concerns is altered on her account, a degree of depression will be felt, and the pleasant anticipations which she most probably entertained will fail to be realized. Let your friend be assured, from your manner, that her presence is a real enjoyment to you—an incentive to recreations which otherwise would not be thought of in the common routine of life. Observe your own feelings when you happen to be the guest of a person who, though he may be very much your friend, and really glad to see you, seems not to know what to do either with you or himself; and again, when in the house of another you feel as much at ease as in your own. Mark the difference, more easily felt than described, between the manners of the two, and deduce therefrom a lesson for your own improvement.

If you have guests in your house, you are to appear to feel that they are all equal for the time, for they all have an equal claim upon your courtesies. Those of the humblest condition will receive full as much attention as the rest, in order that you shall not painfully make them feel their inferiority.

Always avoid the foolish practice of deprecating your own rooms, furniture, or viands, and expressing regrets that you have nothing better to offer. Neither should you go to the other extreme of extolling any particular thing or article of food. The best way is to say nothing about these matters. Neither is it proper to urge guests to eat, or to load their plates against their inclinations.

Endeavor to retain your friends as long as they like to prolong their visit. When they intimate an intention to leave you, if you really desire their continuance somewhat longer, frankly say so. Should they, however, have fixed the time, and cannot prolong their stay, facilitate their going by every means in your power; and, while you kindly invite them to renew their visit, point out to them any places of interest on the road, and furnish such information as you possess.

If invited to spend a few days at a friend’s house, conform as much as possible to the habits of the family. When parting for the night, inquire respecting the breakfast hour, and ascertain at what time the family meet for prayers. If this right custom prevails, be sure to be in time; and obtain any necessary information from the servant who waits upon you. Give as little trouble as possible; and never think of apologizing for the extra trouble which your visit occasions. Such an apology implies that your friend cannot conveniently entertain you. Your own good sense and delicacy will teach you the desirability of keeping your room tidy, and your articles of dress and toilet as much in order as possible. If there is a deficiency of servants, a lady will certainly not hesitate to make her own bed and to do for herself as much as possible, and for the family all that is in her power.

We presume that few people will leave a friend’s house without some expression of regret, and some acknowledgment proffered for the pleasure that has been afforded them. Instances to the contrary have come within our knowledge, and therefore we remind our youthful readers especially, that this small act of politeness is indispensable, not in the form of a set speech, but by a natural flowing forth of right feeling. It is also proper, on returning home, to inform your friends of your safe arrival; the sense which you entertain of their hospitality, and the gratification derived from your visit, may be also gracefully alluded to.

The chain which binds society together is formed of innumerable links. Let it be your part to keep those links uniformly bright; and to see that neither dust nor rust accumulate upon them.