Some Hints For Entertainers
( Originally Published 1906 )
IT is a blessed art, this art of entertaining guests, and certainly one has hardly learned "how to play" till he has learned how to set others to playing. Some are "natural entertainers," but the most of us, being naturally selfish, find that at first we are awkward and unsuccessful hosts. Let no one despair. Some of the most delightful of entertainers have risen to that beautiful supremacy after many a determined struggle with bashfulness and coldness and general boorishness. f entertaining " comes hard " to you, rub in the oil of brotherly kindness until it " comes easy."
I count the very first essential to the success of any party that the hostess enjoy it herself. If she is having a good time, the contagion will reach her guests, no matter though the kitchen stove smokes and the ice-cream fails to arrive. On the other hand, if she is hurried and anxious, though the reason for her trepidation may be entirely hidden, the emotion itself cannot be hidden, but every guest is under a constraint, and the evening is spoiled, perhaps no one knows just why.
Napoleon got to going into battle with a certain prestige and assurance of victory that was in itself half the fight. An experienced hostess has gained this Napoleonic confidence, and her manifest ease puts at ease every one that enters her portals. You may be awkward at first and make many blunders, but with each party you give in the right spirit some of this awkwardness will wear away, until at length you will have become yourself a Napoleon of good cheer. Your party will not then be an occasion of dread, but of happy inspiration and of nothing but joyful memories for all.
A party is already far on its way toward success if the guests are well chosen. The wise beginner in entertaining will invite only two or three, and will increase the number of her guests only as her resources in the entertainer's art have increased. There is a natural limit also, since some will never get beyond the three-guest ability or the four-guest ability, just as some teachers that are glorious with small classes are failures with large ones, and some men that make capital sergeants would make a mess of it as colonels.
Much depends also, as may well be understood, on selecting congenial guests. Do not make the mistake, however, of thinking that all must be in the same "set." One of the chief pleasures of social assemblies is in the discovery of delightful folks you had not known before, the introduction of people that should know each other, but do not. Always plan this element of surprise for your parties.
And especially, if you want to get the highest enjoyment from your party, invite at least one person out of pure kindness—some one that is not attractive to you, nor very congenial, it may be, to any one, but needs to be helped in ways in which the occasion may be made to help. f you can feel that your party has transplanted a wall flower to the centre of the garden, or coaxed forth the concealed beauties of some lovely soul hidden back of an ugly husk, you will have reaped the noblest reward your entertainment has to give.
Do not make up your list of guests just to "pay off debts." While of course one or two may be included for this reason that might not otherwise be included, for you to bring together to one house a motley company of folks just because you have been to their separate houses is the extreme of social absurdity, and only a miracle could produce a pleasant evening for guests so fortuitously gathered.
Next, if you would succeed in your entertainment, you must have a good programme. It must be definite, and it is best written down. It must be comprehensive, including all the details of the evening. And it must be generous, since it is always better to have plans for more than the time than to fall short of amusement, and find yourself and guests suddenly face to face with a horrible, unforeseen blank.
In planning for the evening's fun never have in mind the showing off of yourself or of any one or anything. The question is not at all what entertainment best pleases you and what games you are a success in, but what your guests will enjoy. f they are not skilled in rhyming, do not embarrass them with crambo, though crambo may be your especial delight. If they are mentally bright do not hesitate to propose crambo, though you never could rhyme, and crambo is your pet aversion. In entertaining, as in everything else, to find your life you must lose it.
The first point in the programme is to pro-vide something to " break the ice," something to occupy the often awkward moments while the guests are arriving and no game can be begun. Something to look at is most useful here—a lot of somethings, about which the guests may group themselves, passing them from hand to hand, drawing newcomers to them with bursts of delight, and getting acquainted over them in spite of themselves. You may have to borrow this initial feature. It may require the combination of several households ; and you may need for the sake of these opening minutes to ask some friend to -come in and help you entertain. If so, all the better.
From this point as a basis, the programme should be built up with short alternations of light amusements and heavy amusements, mental and physical. First, perhaps, some action game to fuse the company together. Next, some quiet game with pencil and paper. Thus you will pass from one type of amusement to another, and in this variation the evening will pass before any one realizes it.
For a sample programme, this : Several tables are heaped with photographs brought there by your brother's friend, Will Holcomb, who is an enthusiastic amateur photographer and has just returned from a long journey with his camera. The photographs are all named on the back, but Will is there with his bright and eager explanations. The guests having arrived, they are set to hunting for a hidden paper—a game described elsewhere in this book. After all eyes have made the important discovery, a round or two of dumb crambo serves still further to organize the company. The more sedate " spello " follows ; then the hilarious egg football. While all are gathered laughing around the table, and begging for just one more try at it, various dishes of candy, cakes, fruit, and nuts are placed be-fore them, and all are bidden to fall to just where they are sitting. The evening closes with a "sing" out of the delightful Franklin Square song-books.
Not that something to eat is necessary. Many a party has been spoiled by over-attention to the stomach. The hostess was in the parlor, but her mind was evidently in the kitchen. All the entertainment was plainly a mere preliminary to the ice-cream and charlotte russe, and after that formidable part of the evening's exercises was over without smashing a dish or spilling a spoonful, the air of the hostess has said as plainly as words, "Now you may go home. You have had it ! "
Do not think that you cannot give a party without something to eat. Some of the most successful evening's entertainments, forever fragrant in my memory, never heard the clatter of a plate, and never even thought of the oesophagus. f you do introduce the gustatory element, let it enter as a by-the-way, without heralding, with no awkward pause in the fun, without arranging the company in the stiff wall-flower ranks so familiar to all of us; man-age to bring it in so skilfully that the current of gaiety may ripple smoothly over it and not be dammed up by a frigid wall of orange sherbet.
Indeed, this quality of smoothness, this easy flow of the entertainment, is the chief test and proof of an experienced hostess. It can come only as the affair is well planned, and all its details are securely held in mind; only, too, as every member of the family, from grandfather to little Bobby, helps in the execution of the plans, each having a part to play, and knowing just how to do it. One person that is good at entertaining is a host, but a whole family of such persons is irresistible.
I should have spoken of the welcome, of the necessity that the hostess should be near the door, that her voice should be cordial, her hand and heart both warm. Nothing is more important than these first words of greeting. Nothing, that is, except the good-byes, for those place upon the evening its final stamp and seal. Keep up the brightness to the end. Many an otherwise delightful entertainer stiff-ens out when she comes to dismiss her guests, and does not seem to know how to do it.
There is a radiant smile, there is a sincere ring to the voice, there is a manifest overflowing of friendship which may grace-these farewells, and which will follow the guests out into the street, and go home with them, and glow through their dreams,, and float like a halo above every thought of the evening's enjoyment. " Good-bye ! " Never forget that that means, " God be with you ! "