LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION.
Letters of introduction are to be regarded as certificates of respectability, and are therefore never to be given where you do not feel sure on this point. To send a person of whom you know nothing into the confidence and family of a friend, is an unpardonable recklessness. In England, letters of introduction are called “tickets to soup,” because it is generally customary to invite a gentleman to dine who comes with a letter of introduction to you. Such is also the practice, to some extent, in this country, but etiquette here does not make the dinner so essential as there.
In England, the party holding a letter of introduction never takes it himself to the party to whom it is addressed, but he sends it with his card of address.
In France, and on the continent of Europe generally, directly the reverse is the fashion. In America the English custom generally prevails; though where a young gentleman has a letter to one who is many years his senior, or to one whose aid he seeks in some enterprise, he takes it at once himself.
When a gentleman, bearing a letter of introduction to you, leaves his card, you should call on him, or send a note, as early as possible. There is no greater insult than to treat a letter of introduction with indifference—it is a slight to the stranger as well as to the introducer, which no subsequent attentions will cancel. After you have made this call, it is, to some extent, optional with you as to what further attentions you shall pay the party. In this country everybody is supposed to be very busy, which is always a sufficient excuse for not paying elaborate attentions to visitors. It is not demanded that any man shall neglect his business to wait upon visitors or guests.
Do not imagine these little ceremonies to be insignificant and beneath your attention; they are the customs of society; and if you do not conform to them, you will gain the unenviable distinction of being pointed out as an ignorant, ill-bred person. Not that you may care the more for strangers by showing them civility, but you should scrupulously avoid the imputation of being deficient in good-breeding; and if you do not choose to be polite for their sakes, you ought to be so for your own.
Letters of introduction should only be given by actual friends of the persons addressed, and to actual friends of their own. Never, if you are wise, give a letter to a person whom you do not know, nor address one to one whom you know slightly. The letter of introduction, if actually given to its bearer, should be left unsealed, that he may not incur the fate of the Persian messenger, who brought tablets of introduction recommending the new acquaintance to cut his head off. A letter of this kind must therefore be carefully worded, stating in full the name of the person introduced, but with as few remarks about him as possible. It is generally sufficient to say that he is a friend of yours, whom you trust your other friend will receive with attention, etc. In traveling it is well to have as many letters as possible, but not to pin your faith on them.