WHEN shall we introduce our friends and acquaintances to one another, and when shall we refrain from doing so? This is a difficult question to answer, especially at the present moment, when the social world in our own country is divided against itself with regard to this important subject. It may be said that we are in a transition stage between the old theory of general and frequent introductions and the new one of non-introduction.
Old-fashioned people and people who are of a cordial disposition, and who dislike excessive formality and ceremony, favor the old-school doctrine; while those who hold more rigid views on the subject of making new acquaintances incline strongly toward the new theories.
The tendency of the present time is certainly toward lessening the frequency of introductions, — a tendency which many people lament as lessening the cordiality and good-fellowship of social gatherings. The English theory is that no formal introduction is necessary for those who meet under a friend's roof; that it is entirely proper for people to speak to one another under such circumstances, thus avoiding the stiffness of sitting silent, and also avoiding the serious drawback of making any undesirable acquaintances.
All this sounds very fair; and then it is English, and that is sufficient recommendation to many people. But in reality it is a far from democratic doctrine, and has its origin, not only in a desire to imitate British customs, but in a feeling of exclusiveness that is rapidly increasing among certain classes of people in our country. One class views with alarm the great and growing army of nouveaux riches who are springing up all around us. To the question, " Why have not these new people as good a right in society socalled as you have? " they have no adequate answer to give, save that the " ins " always want to keep out the " outs." So they are very glad to avail themselves of the polite fiction that it is just as pleasant to talk to some one whose name you don't know, and who doesn't know yours, and whom you will meet to-morrow as a perfect stranger, as it is to converse with a person to whom you have been duly presented, and with whom you may, if agreeable to both parties, form a pleasant acquaintanceship or perhaps a lasting friendship!
Another class, that of the plutocrats, seem to fancy that the possession of money makes them superior to other people, and they also desire to be exclusive. It is right and proper to choose our own friends, but the fear of knowing our fellow-men is childish and rather ridiculous, in a country where rank and title are forbidden by law.
An American who was travelling in England with his wife received an unpleasant but amusing lesson on the subject of which we are speaking. Happening to find themselves in the same railway carriage with an English gentleman and his wife, our American couple gradually fell into conversation with the Britons, whom they found to be agreeable and polite people.
Both parties chanced to leave the train at the same station, the English couple getting into a coroneted carriage which was waiting for them, and the others contenting themselves with a plebeian ,cab. The American, a man remarkable for his good-breeding and politeness, thought it only civil to bow a farewell to the lady with whom he had been conversing but a moment before. To his astonishment and indignation the lady responded with a well-bred but stony stare! She no doubt regarded the salute as an overture on the part of the American toward making her acquaintance; whereas he, in the simplicity of his republican good manners, merely intended to bid her a courteous and eternal farewell!
According to the new fashion, if two or three or more visitors are all calling upon a lady at the same time, she does not introduce them to one another, but endeavors to divide her time and attention equally among them, and expects that they will assist her by talking together. It goes without saying that many people do not pay any attention to this rule, but ad-here to the more cordial and older custom of introducing the different visitors to one another, where their number is not too large. Of course where a great many callers are present at the same time, — at an after-noon tea, for instance, or on a lady's regular reception-day, the hostess would not then introduce all her visitors to one another, because this would be awkward, as are all general introductions.
At large and formal afternoon receptions, the hostess is not expected to make introductions since she cannot leave her post to do so. The assistant hostesses invite the guests into the dining-room and attend to their wants there or ask the servants to do so. Hence these occasions are only enjoyable to those whose friends or acquaintances are present.
At a house where the hostess is more anxious that her guests should have a good time than she is to preserve great state and ceremony, she will endeavor to make some introductions both on afternoon and evening occasions. As a hostess she has the undoubted right to introduce all the guests under her own roof. Of course she will exercise this prerogative with tact and caution, taking care not to make people acquainted where one or both parties might object to the introduction, or where they would be mutually unsympathetic and would have no interests in common. She will be especially careful about introducing two ladies who live in the same city; since there may be some special reason which prevents their forming each other's acquaintance, and also because such an acquaintance between dwellers in the same city would not be a mere temporary affair, as it might be in the case of people who lived at a great distance from one another.
With strangers, a hostess will feel- much more at liberty to do as she pleases. The ancient traditions of hospitality towards them are not yet forgotten; and these dictate that not only the lady of the house, but her friends also, shall welcome the stranger that is within her gates. Neither need she stand so much on ceremony with young girls and men as with married ladies and older gentlemen, although, to tell the truth, it is in young men that she will be most apt to meet with a want of breeding and courtesy, especially if she wishes to introduce them to dancing partners. But where a man is a dancing man and nothing more, where his sole capital lies in his heels, perhaps he has a right to economize in the use of them.
However, it is clearly the duty of a hostess, at a ball or dance, to provide her guests with partners, and for that purpose she must either make introductions her-self or through the help of others. Any One except the hostess must always ask permission before presenting a gentleman to a lady, permission which should never be refused unless the lady has very good and strong reasons for declining to make the gentleman's acquaintance. Young men often present each other to young ladies at dances, although strictly speaking the permission of the chaperon should be asked before-hand. A gentleman may also ask a lady, if he know her well, to introduce him to another lady when a proper opportunity shall occur. Of course he could neither wish nor expect his friend to cross a crowded room with him to make the introduction; because she would then be left to make a bad third, or else to retrace her way alone. The situation would be awkward, except for one of the ladies of the house.
Gentlemen do not ask for introductions to one another, because they do not generally wish to become acquainted, or if one wishes to do so he very properly hesitates to force himself on the attention of another person, who may be unwilling to know him. Ladies do not, under ordinary circumstances, ask for. introductions to one another, for reasons which will be very readily understood from what has gone before. If one lady does ask, however, the person to whom she applies should find out before making the introduction whether it will be agreeable to the other lady.
An exception to this rule, both for ladies and gentle-men, is found in the case where they are invited especially to meet some person. One not only has a right to ask to be presented to the guest of the evening, but not to do so would often show a lack of courtesy. At a very large gathering, or where the honored guest is a person of distinction, one should not be too forward about pressing one's claims, especially if the guest be already talking with people of more importance or with those who might be more agreeable to him. Modesty is usually a safe virtue to cultivate.
Another exception to the rule is found in cases where it is evident that the hostess has omitted the introduction, either from forgetfulness, or because she sup-poses that the ladies already know each other. One need not ask leave, before presenting one's husband, mother or other near relative.
If a gentleman meets in the street two ladies, one of whom he knows, and if he joins them, he should be presented to the lady whom he does not know, in order to avoid awkwardness. But if he merely stopped a moment to speak to a lady, she would not then intro-duce him to her friend, unless she especially wished to do so, and had reason to suppose that the introduction would be agreeable to both parties. In all casual meetings in the street, in travelling, at the theatre, etc., — meetings, in short, on neutral ground, and where there is no hostess, — the rule should be not to make undue haste to introduce people, but to do so whenever it is necessary to avoid awkwardness, or to avoid the appearance of neglect or rudeness to the friend in whose company one was at first.
Street introductions are much like what lawyers call street opinions; that is, they are easily given and do not amount to much. A lawyer does not expect to be bound by a street opinion; nor need any one who does not wish to, be bound by a casual introduction of this sort given as a matter of form, and where no real acquaintanceship has been made between the parties. As a lady, however, has the privilege of bowing or not bowing to a gentleman so introduced to her, he should, when he next meets her, give her an opportunity of recognizing him in case she may wish to do so.
The form of double presentation, as " Mrs. A. --Mrs. B., Mrs. B. -- Mrs. A.," has now gone out of fashion, which is a pity on one account; and that is, because it gave the introducer neutral ground to stand upon, and neither party could complain because the other one's name had been spoken first. Where Mrs. B. is of about the same age as Mrs. A., it would be proper to avoid this difficulty so far as possible by saying, " Mrs. A., this is Mrs. B.," and at the same time pronouncing the two names with equal emphasis. Single ladies should be presented to married ones, and younger ladies to older ones.
In introducing two men or two ladies, one addresses the elder. The name of the junior is often mentioned first, voice and accent showing that the latter is the person presented. A well-known society belle and a very charming woman was asked recently what her views were on the subject of introductions. " I never make them when I can avoid doing so," she replied. " What would be the use? People do not thank you for extending their circle of acquaintance; of course in the case of strangers it is a different matter. I should introduce a stranger to any one whom I thought it would be agreeable for him to know; and I should do it with as little formality as possible. For instance, I should perhaps say, ` Mr. Thompson, you know Mr. Great West, do you not? ' or ` Mr. Thompson, I want you to know Mr. Great West.' I should not take one up to the other if I could avoid doing so. If one gentleman joined me in the street while I was walking with another, I should certainly not introduce the former to the latter; because he would have no business to join me unless he knew the gentleman with whom I was walking; and I would not allow myself to be made a pretext by one man who sought the acquaintance of another." In this little speech we have the key-note of the modern theory, — the avoidance of all formal presentations wherever it is possible to avoid them.
When one lady has asked for an introduction to another, of course it is proper to present the lady who has made the request, to the lady whom she has ex-pressed a desire to know, if the latter consents to the introduction. Although we have neither rank nor titles in this country, still we accord the " pas " to men and women whose genius has won them distinction, military, political, literary or artistic; and to such people those of lesser mark should be presented, as a rule, always remembering that a lady must never be presented to a gentleman, no matter how distinguished he may be, — the gentleman should always be presented to the lady.
Many years ago, when Paul Morphy, the chess-player, was at the height of his fame, an entertainment was given for him in Boston. The host, with more zeal than discretion, asked a lady who was well known in Boston society if she would not like to be presented to the lion of the evening. " I should be very happy," she replied, " to have Mr. Paul Morphy presented to me, but I do not wish to be presented to him." The distinction thus made was entirely correct, although it is one which Americans sometimes forget in the national passion for lion-hunting. In presenting a gentleman to a lady one may say, " Miss A., allow
me to present for to introduce] Mr. B.; " although, to tell the truth, little is usually heard of the ceremony of introduction beyond the names. Even these are sometimes ruthlessly massacred, or lost amid the surrounding noise and confusion. One should always try to pronounce names very distinctly in introducing people; and where one or both persons are distinguished on any account, it is perhaps well to point this out in some way, — by giving the person's full name and title, for instance, as " Miss Jones, allow me to present Dr. Weir Mitchell to you; " or, "Miss Jones, this is Dr. Murfree, the inventor of " etc.
Some celebrities who are of a modest turn of mind object decidedly, however, to hearing their -deeds or qualities rehearsed; how much more do the brothers, sisters, wives and daughters of distinguished people object to being placarded with such a title as, Sister of the Member from Missouri," for instance. There is nothing more exasperating than to go through life as the brother of a great man; it condemns a man forever to a secondary place, and he feels, perhaps keenly, that whatever he can do to make an honorable name for himself, that name will always seem as nothing in the shadow of the greater one which eclipse's it. How unpleasant it must have been for the Marquis of Lorne to be known always as the son-in-law of Queen Victoria, instead of as the heir to one of the oldest and most honorable titles of the British empire, — that of Duke of Argyle ! With the son or daughter of a distinguished man the case is not as bad; but still it is not quite pleasant for either of them to have a person give a look that plainly says, " Well, I should have liked to see your father, but that does not make me glad to see you!"
Should one shake hands with a person when introduced to him? It is our ordinary custom to do so in America, and the custom is a pleasant and cordial one. Gentlemen almost always shake hands when they are introduced to one another; ladies often do so when they are introduced to other ladies; when gentle-men are presented, ladies may if they please offer their hands, especially if they are married, or no longer very young. Young ladies usually merely make a bow or a courtesy, particularly if they know that they do so gracefully. Much depends, of course, on the time and place where the introduction is made.
In the ball-room the latest and most elegant fashion is simply for the lady to courtesy and the gentleman to bow. Where informal introductions are made, or introductions merely to prevent awkwardness, as in the case of several callers meeting in a parlor, or in other chance rencontres, no hand-shaking is necessary. Again, much will depend upon whether the people who are made acquainted with each other through an introduction are entire strangers, or whether they already know something of one another by report. Thus a lady would shake hands with a gentleman who was a friend of her husband or brother, or of an intimate friend of her own.
It is the lady's privilege to offer her hand first, as it is to bow first; but as in these matters, just as in duels, everything happens quickly if not simultaneously, a lady should accept a gentleman's hand if he offers it, to avoid awkwardness.
In her own house a lady should, in her capacity of hostess, shake hands with those who are introduced to her as well as with all her other guests, except in case of a large ball or ceremonious reception, where, as has been said elsewhere, she may merely receive them with a courtesy if she prefers to do so. It is much more in the spirit of true hospitality, to shake hands with one's guests under one's own roof. The custom of making general introductions — of introducing a newcomer to a whole roomful of people — has quite gone out of fashion, lingering only in quiet country places. It is not to be regretted, since it subjected a stranger to a most trying ordeal, in which he almost invariably made a bow to the wrong person. It is now usual, at a lunch or dinner, to present a stranger shortly after his arrival to one or two persons, and afterward to others, as circumstances permit.
A gentleman should always be presented to the lady whom he is to take down to dinner.
A lady rises when another is introduced to her. She need not do so unless she chooses, if a man is presented.
While it is proper to bring a lady who has asked for an introduction, up to the one whom she desires to know, it is not proper to bring up in this way a person who has made no such proposal, but who merely consents to the introduction when it is suggested to her. Cordial but thoughtless women sometimes make this mistake, in their desire to have their friends know each other, and drag one across a room, much to her disgust, since she is thus put in the position of the inferior. One must not take this liberty, except with an intimate friend, or where one seeks to make a presentation to a person of acknowledged distinction. It is better to wait until a more favorable opportunity brings the two ladies near together.
( Originally Published 1911 )
Conversation In Society
On Voice, Language And Accent
Gestures And Carriage
Letters Of Introduction
Dress And Customs Appropriate To Mourning
Host And Guest
Country Manners And Hospitality
In The Street And In Public Places
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