Visiting Cards And Their Uses
WE do not often associate in our minds the famous Magna Charta of English history, the source of so great a part of our modern liberty, and the insignificant bits of pasteboard which constitute modern visiting cards. Nevertheless, they come from the same Greek root, signifying paper; or to speak more exactly, card is derived from charta (Greek Xaíprgs). Thus the sword is beaten into the ploughshare, and the formal instrument for fettering the caprices of tyrants softens into the peaceful emblem of social recognition.
In the ancient " cartel of defiance " we find a more directly hostile meaning to our word — with a slight change in its form — than in charter. A Cartel means, among other things, a challenge to single combat. Ben Jonson says, " You shall cartel him." Where two strangers quarrel, the one who has reason to- expect a challenge presents his opponent with his card, so that the latter may know where to find him, a pleasant little courteous preliminary to the most polite form of murder, the duel.
Under ordinary circumstances, however, the exchange of visiting cards is an eminently peaceful act, and would at the first blush seem to be a very simple affair. But with the perverse ingenuity in which the human mind delights; mankind, or rather womankind, has involved even this apparently innocent ceremony in a large amount of red tape and confusion. Nothing would appear to be simpler than for one neighbor to leave her card upon another; but it is just such apparently insignificant acts, such first steps, that have embroiled nations in countless wars.
" Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
Joking aside, however, there are certain general principles which govern the making of visits, in common with other social usages. If we adhere to these, we shall not meet with serious difficulties.
The prevailing style in visiting cards alters from time to time as to details. It can readily be ascertained from any reliable stationer in any large city. Certain general rules, however, have become fixed. Cards should always be of unglazed cardboard of the best quality, and should be perfectly plain. Script of medium size is usually preferred and is less apt to go out of fashion than either German or Roman text. Very fine lettering, like any other singularity, is to be avoided. Men's cards are smaller than women's and are also narrower in proportion to their length. The card of a married woman is larger than that of a young girl. It was formerly a mooted point whether a man's visiting card looked better with or without " Mr." before his name, but the use of the prefix has now become general. It is omitted on a man's business card.
For a lady there is no room for choice in the matter. She must always use " Miss " or " Mrs." on her visiting card, unless she is a physician or a minister. In this case she gives her professional title as " Dr. Florence Pond " for instance.
It is now the fashion to use the full name, as Mr. Henry Robertson Smith. Some people adhere to the custom of giving only the initial of the middle name. Others suppress the Christian name, as Mr. J. Perkins Beck. This seems affected, and gives rise to the suspicion that the omitted name must be objectionable.
A nickname should never be used. " Miss Mamie Smith " on a card is in very bad form. Nicknames are all very well at home, or among intimate friends, but they are out of place on a visiting card because they are too familiar; and a card is, or should be, a formal matter.
An army or a navy officer, a physician, a judge or a clergyman may use his title on his card, as for instance " Captain James Smith," " Judge Henry Gray," " Rev. Thomas Jones, D. D." The card of an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court at Washington reads, " Mr. Justice Holmes." Militia or complimentary titles are not used on visiting cards, nor are coats-of-arms. In this republican country it is considered an affectation and in bad taste thus to make use of them.
Husband and wife do not often now have their names engraved on the same card, except for wedding cards, or for sending wedding presents, cards of condolence, etc. For visiting, each gentleman of the family has his own card, although, sooth to say, he seldom leaves it himself, intrusting that duty to his wife, his mother or his sisters.
Every one's card should have the address of the owner engraved in the right-hand corner; that is to say, the street and the number where he lives, but not the name of the city. The present fashion of giving numbers in full instead of figures, as Fifteen West Ninth St., seems rather foolish, and is not practicable where the numbers are large. Many people do not follow it. If a lady has a reception day, it is engraved usually in the left-hand comer. The address is often omitted from the cards of very young girls, and some-times from those of married ladies, in which case the card of the husband, with the address, must always be left. According to present fashion, however, the address is engraved on the cards of the women of the family. It is often omitted from those of the men. Young men belonging to a fashionable or well-known club often put its name, instead of their residence, on their cards. This is especially the case where they do not live at home.
A married lady should have her husband's full name or such parts of it as he uses on her card, and not her own.
A business or professional woman, may have in addition, a card with her own name, for business purposes. Socially, she is always " Mrs. John Barnaby," unless her position or that of her husband entitles her to call herself simply " Mrs. Barnaby. A woman who is personally distinguished, who occupies a high social position, or whose husband stands as the head of his family, may claim this privilege. It is better not to do so, however, unless one has an indisputable right to be considered as the Mrs. Barnaby of the locality. It is usually held that the wife of the oldest brother of the oldest branch of the family is the person to be so distinguished. A serious quarrel took place not long ago, in one of the leading families of New York society, on this subject. After the death of the eldest brother, the wife of the younger, and the wife of the son of the deceased both claimed to be the Mrs. X.
The same rule holds good for single women. The eldest unmarried daughter of the eldest brother, and she alone, has a right to use " Miss Cavendish " on her card, although she may have a cousin who is much older than herself but who is the daughter of a younger brother of the same family.
The existence of an aged aunt, or a cousin belonging to an elder branch and living in the same city, will deprive both young ladies of this coveted privilege.
In this country, where we are considered by foreigners as being very radical, we are in reality more conservative in the matter of merging a married woman's name in that of her husband than are most European nations. An Englishwoman of rank keeps her own title, where she marries a man of inferior station. If Lady Evelina Stuart marries Mr. John Smith, she becomes Lady Evelina Smith, and not Mrs. John Smith. So, on the Continent, it is quite common for a married woman to keep her maiden name in addition to her husband's, the husband's name being placed first.
A widow has no legal right to use her husband's Christian name; but she often prefers to retain this on her card, and it is entirely proper for her to do so, the question being one of sentiment and feeling alone. Where "a widow has a son who is married, and whose name is the same as his father's, there may arise some confusion, however, between the two " Mrs. Thomas R. Jones," unless the elder lady puts " Sr." on her cards, as she sometimes does, or unless she calls herself " Mrs. Jones." Widows occasionally use their own names or initials, as " Mrs. Mary Jones."
The custom of having the name of the daughter or daughters engraved below that of their mother is now in favor. The form " The Misses Smith " may be used, or the names may be given separately. This arrangement saves time, trouble and expense. It is copied from English etiquette, according to which, a young girl has no card of her own. The custom has been adopted in New York, to a certain extent, where, in some circles, a débutante does not have a card until she has been in society a year, the theory being that she does not pay formal visits alone. As American school-girls often have a card without prefix, the débutante may continue to use this for visits among her young friends.
Sisters often have a card for their joint use, as " The Misses Smith."
When must one call personally, and when will it suffice to send cards by a servant or through the post? These are questions not so thoroughly settled in this country as in Europe, where the social treadmill has been so long in full operation that as a matter of necessity its laws have become definitely fixed.
As society increases in size, there is a growing tendency in our large cities toward simplifying the burden of .social duties. It is not now considered necessary to call in person under various circumstances where formerly the rule was that one must do so. Even the post-office is coming gradually into requisition as an agent for discharging social obligations; but as yet it is only sparingly used, and with definite limitations.
Thus P. p. c. cards may be sent by mail, where the person leaving town has not the time to make a personal visit. Also, where one is unable to attend a reception, or an afternoon tea, cards may be sent by mail (it is better to send them by a messenger), to arrive on the day of the entertainment. If one is present at the affair, it is not necessary to call afterwards. Indeed, the unspeakable advantage of afternoon teas and receptions is, that you enjoy your party and make your visit all at the same time. It is an economic device worthy the brain of a John Stuart Mill, and possibly secretly invented by him. The great popularity of afternoon teas no doubt arises from the fact that they are time-saving institutions.
It should be said, however, that after a formal reception, many hostesses now expect the guests to call. One should certainly do so after a tea given to introduce a débutante, or after a wedding or other reception given in honor of some especial event.
Usually the servant who opens the door on these occasions has a little silver salver in his hand for the cards of guests; otherwise, guests leave their cards on the hall table, as a reminder to their hostess, who can hardly be expected to remember, after a large reception, every one who has been there. One does not leave cards at a wedding reception, however.
When should P. p. c. cards be left or sent? P. p. c., it is hardly necessary to say, means Pour prendre congé (to take one's leave). These cards are used when one is going away from a place either permanently or for quite a length of time, and " P. p, c." is written in a corner of the card, usually the lower right-hand one, to emphasize this fact. One does not leave them, however, when about to go out of town for the summer, since this is only a brief absence, and an absence hat is made by most people. On the other hand, it is quite proper to send or leave P. p. c. cards when one goes away from a watering-place or other summer re-sort, especially if the people to whom you send them do not live in the same city or town with yourself during the rest of the year. The obvious reason for the propriety of sending these cards in lieu of making a personal visit is, that when people go away they are almost always hurried; indeed, they are often obliged to leave very suddenly, and under such circumstances that making visits would be an impossibility.
But there are certain visits which must be made personally if one does not wish to break the rules of good society and perhaps deeply offend people. After one has been invited to a dinner, one must call within a fortnight or better still within a week after the occasion, call in person, and ask if the hostess is at home. A formal dinner is one of the most solemn obligations of society; if you accept an invitation to one, only death or mortal illness is a legitimate excuse for not attending it, and you must have nearly as good a reason for not calling promptly afterwards. This " visit of digestion " as the French name it, should also be paid in person within a week or a fortnight after a luncheon, supper or similar function, to which one has been invited.
According to the strict rule, one should call within a fortnight after any entertainment to which one has been asked; but this is sometimes impossible. The actual or " working " rule is that one calls, after every invitation, as soon as is practicable.
°How often is it necessary to pay formal visits? Where no invitations have been received, once a year is all that the strict rules of society require in large cities. According to some authorities it is sufficient for such a formal call to leave cards at the door, or even to send them in an envelope; but it is usual in this country to go in person, even if one does not ask whether the lady of the house is at home. In large cities, this inquiry has become almost a matter of form, since few women are visible, except on their day at home.
Society holds young people, and people who have plenty of leisure time, much. more strictly to account in the matter of visiting than it does elderly persons, or those whose hands are so full that they have comparatively little time to give to the claims of social life.
A young mother with a nursery full of little ones, a literary woman, an artist, a professional woman, all these may claim a certain immunity from social duties. But no young girl must expect to find herself excused from paying calls because she is too busy having a good time. If she can go to a party to amuse herself, she must call afterwards to acknowledge the attention her hostess has paid her by the invitation.
If we wish to retain a place in the circle of friends and acquaintances to which we belong, we must recall ourselves to their minds, within a reasonable length of time. Otherwise, we may easily drop out of sight and of remembrance. We may be forgiven for neglecting to call, but we must not be surprised if our names are omitted from the list of persons to be invited.
Where a mother is too much occupied or too unwell to go in person, her daughter or some other member of the family, may pay the necessary visits in her stead. Where there is no one who can act as deputy, cards may be issued for one or more afternoon teas, since an invitation is more of a compliment than a call. A lady who is unable for some reason, to pay formal visits, and who has thus remembered her friends may send her cards by mail, although she should make in person the visits in recognition of hospitality received or offered.
The custom of receiving on a certain day in the week is a sensible and hospitable one, but alas! it takes up a great deal of time. Where a lady thus sets apart a certain day for receiving her friends, it is much more polite to call on that day of the week when it is possible to do so. Especially is this the case when the ladies of one neighborhood or of one street fix on the same day for receiving friends. But the case is not the same when a lady sends out cards announcing that she is " at home " on " Wednesdays in January and February." If one knows that a lady has thus issued cards for a series of receptions, even though they be quite informal occasions, one should avoid calling on those particular days unless one has received a card with the necessary invitation.
The custom of sending out cards for a certain day throughout one month is a very good one; a lady is thus enabled to receive her friends very informally without giving up a great deal of her time, and she also avoids the " crush that is apt to ensue if she gives only a single afternoon tea or reception. Some ladies receive once a month throughout the season. They have, "The first Friday until Lent," or " The second Wednesday until April " engraved on their cards.
After a removal from one part of a city to another, it is now customary for ladies to send cards engraved with their new address and with their reception day to all their circle of acquaintance.
Although authorities differ on many subjects connected with manners, they all agree in saying that first calls should be promptly returned, — within a week, under ordinary circumstances. Brides who upon their marriage go to live in another city sometimes give great offence by neglecting to return visits of this sort; and it is entirely reasonable and natural that those who pay a first call, which is equivalent to an offer to make one's acquaintance, should feel hurt if their advance is not recognized and reciprocated.
In America, it is the usual custom for residents of a city or town to call first upon newcomers. Washington is a well-known exception to this rule, the strangers calling first upon government officials and their families. In most European cities newcomers call upon those already in residence.
It is also the custom in some cities for the older residents in a certain street or neighborhood to call upon those who have recently moved to that part; I need hardly say that these latter should by all means return such calls. The good old custom of interchanging neighborly civilities should certainly not be allowed to die out. It is not necessary to become intimate with your neighbors if they are not people who are sympathetic to you; but for two families to live next door to one another year after year, and never to show any token of mutual good-will, or perhaps even of mutual recognition, argues that their civilization is below that of rustics. Indeed, it would probably be considered as bad form even in Ashantee.
The size of the city or town has much to do with determining the etiquette of this point. In restless, cosmopolitan New York, where people of so many nationalities live, and where removals are so frequent, neighborhood does not lead to the exchange of visits, unless among those who belong to the same social circle.
Clergymen and their families, brides and persons of note are entitled to receive first calls. It must be said, however, that the latter are often greatly an noyed by the multitude of visits of those who have no claim upon their time. One should not intrude upon them, without a valid reason for doing so.
A lady needs to be very cautious about making first calls unless she is certain that her acquaintance will be considered desirable by those whom she visits in this way. Thus if Mrs. A. is a woman of greater wealth or higher social position than Mrs. B., the latter will hesitate to call first upon the former unless she is asked to do so, for fear she may be thought pushing.
Where society is divided into certain cliques or sets, as is too often the case in our cities, a lady belonging to the less fashionable clique should hesitate long before calling upon one of a more fashionable circle, even though she may have been introduced to the other lady, and may have met her a number of times on social or other occasions.
It is simply a question of the Golden Rule, which applies more to social customs than the unthinking realize or perceive. Do not call first on any one who your common sense tells you would in all probability prefer not to make your acquaintance, or, if that is already made, not to add you to her visiting list. True, this is mortifying to one's vanity, but it does one's vanity good to trample on it occasionally; and if we do this unpleasant office for ourselves, others will be less likely to do it for us. Vanity, moreover, can be well repressed without in the least injuring self-respect, which is a very different quality.
We must not, however, neglect those to whom our visits may bring pleasure. The stranger, the infirm, the old, are too often lonely and sad. We are told on the highest authority to visit those who are " Sick and in prison."
First calls must be returned personally as well as promptly, in order that you may not appear to slight those who have made the first demonstration of courtesy. A lady does not wish to be outdone in politeness even by some one whose acquaintance she may not especially desire.
But if the lady who calls first only leaves her card, then the second lady responds by leaving her card in like manner; or if the first merely sends her card through the post; then the second does likewise.
An important exception to this rule is made where the lady who sends her cards through the post sends at the same time an invitation to some entertainment at her house. As this expresses more good-will and is a greater compliment than the making of a formal call, the second lady should receive the courtesy in the spirit in which it was meant. She should call very soon after the entertainment, and in person, since a first invitation is a more formal matter than subsequent ones, just as a first call is; and both must be responded to with special formality.
When one married woman makes the first call of the season upon another she leaves her own card, and two of her husband's. If there are grown up daughters, an additional card of her own is left for them, with a third, if she is calling upon a guest staying in the house. For her son, she should leave three, one for the master of the house, one for the mother and a third for the daughters. She would also leave, to represent her own daughters,. the same number of cards as for herself, unless their names were engraved beneath her own.
When calling upon two single ladies, it is proper to leave a card for each. Indeed, the general rule is to leave one card for each lady called upon, where they are not mother and daughters. A young married woman living with her parents, would receive a separate card. One must not be, too prodigal with one's pasteboard, because that would seem a little ostentatious, a little like overdoing. It is said that a lady should never leave more than three of her own cards at the same house. If only one card is left it is always supposed to be for the mistress of the house.
After the first call of the season, it is not necessary to leave the cards of the husband or other members of the family, unless in recognition of an invitation extended to them.
The custom of cornering cards or turning them down at one end has gone out of fashion. This is certainly cause for rejoicing, because the exact meanings of the various turnings have never been clearly established and understood in this country, as they are in Europe.
When a death occurs, friends and acquaintances alike should show their sympathy with the bereaved family, by calling or sending letters or cards of condolence. According to the kindly old custom, friends and neighbors in the country and in small communities, call at once to express their sympathy and to offer assistance. If they are not upon terms of intimacy, they do not expect to see those in affliction. Usually a relation or neighbor is on hand, to see callers. In cities, where greater formality necessarily prevails, only relations and near friends ask to be admitted to a house of mourning, other persons leaving cards at the door, if they call before the funeral. All friends should if possible, call within a month of the death, asking to see one or more members of the family, where the acquaintance warrants it. We should not feel hurt, however, if we are not received. People who are in deep sorrow often shrink from seeing visitors, and we should respect their grief too much to desire to intrude upon it.
The custom of sending one's visiting card, with a brief message of condolence written on it, is an excellent one. " With deep sympathy " or " With sincere sympathy " is the usual form. These cards should be sent soon after the funeral. They take the place of letters of condolence, to some extent, but the latter are still obligatory, for old or intimate friends.
The mourner should acknowledge both cards and letters by sending, after a time, a brief message such as " With many thanks for kind expressions of sympathy " written above her name, on a visiting card with a black border. Or an engraved form like the following may be used.
Mrs. Delamater and the children of Bishop Delamater most gratefully acknowledge your valued messages of sympathy at the time of their great anxiety and sorrow.
A purple border instead of a black edge is used on these forms of acknowledgment by some persons.
Cards left without any message should be acknowledged by a mourning card, sent in an envelope.
People who wear mourning dress, should have a black border on their visiting cards, varying in depth, in accordance with the nearness of the relationship and the length of time that has elapsed since the bereavement. A very wide border, like other extremes of fashion is to be avoided, since it savors of ostentation.
One should also call, or at least send cards, when an engagement is announced, or when a marriage has taken place, in the family of an acquaintance. When a friend or acquaintance has made a prolonged absence, in Europe or elsewhere, it is usual to call upon her; but it is equally proper for the person who has been absent to make the first call if she prefers to do so. Society is growing so large in our great cities, and is likewise so self-absorbed, that the latter course is the wiser one if a lady wishes to recall herself to people's minds. She may naturally expect her intimate friends to make the first call; but she should not feel hurt if others neglect to do so.
It is the custom in New York, and elsewhere, for people who are temporarily staying in the city to send their cards, with address upon them, to those whom they wish to have call; otherwise they might remain for weeks without their friends being at all aware of their presence in the city. Cards should not be sent in this way to mere acquaintances, however, unless they have especially expressed the desire to be informed of one's arrival.
Where one is invited to any entertainment by a new acquaintance, one should leave cards without delay, according to rule; but this is a canon which is certainly often violated. At least one should be very particular to call within a week after the event, even if one has also left cards upon receiving the invitation.
Those who send invitations to people to whom they owe calls which they have been unable to pay, sometimes enclose their cards with the invitation, thus showing that the call has been omitted from the pressure of time and circumstances, but not with intention to neglect. This should always be done when inviting those on whom one has never called, although the better way would be to call before sending the invitation.
The hours for formal calling differ in different cities, though there seems to be a growing tendency in New York and Boston to make the calling hours later and later. A recent authority says that from four to six is the proper time to make ceremonious calls in New York; but many people call earlier than this, and in the short winter days it is surely allowable to make visits as early as three o'clock.
One should carefully avoid the lunch or dinner hour in calling even upon friends, and of course much more in the case of acquaintances. Where one has been told, however, to call at the lunch-hour, one is naturally at liberty to do so. People sometimes say, " Our lunch-hour is so-and-so; come and see me then, and you will be sure to find me at home." In such a case it is perfectly proper to, go at the hour named; but if the friend is at lunch it is not polite to detain her. Word should be sent in that one will wait till the meal is over. If the friend comes out and asks you to the lunch-table, you should go in without peradventure, or else take your leave at once. It is very thought-less, if not positively ill-bred, to play the part of dogin-the-manger, and by refusing to comply with your friend's request, compel her to delay or go without her meal; and yet it is a thing that is often done, from want of thought.
Calling has become so ceremonious, and has grown to consist so largely of a simple exchange of cards, that a practice of making informal calls in the morning upon friends and intimates is coming much into vogue in our large cities. For these unceremonious visits a lady should not wear an elaborate toilette. Unless one is extremely intimate with a friend, however, it is best not to call at a very early hour, before twelve o'clock for instance.
A lady should always carefully consider her friends' occupations, habits and ways of life, and should avoid making even a very friendly visit at an hour when she knows the person in question will probably be otherwise engaged. It may seem perhaps superfluous to mention such self-evident facts as these; but the truth is that it is just such rules that are often violated by well-bred people who are either thoughtless or selfish. Save me from my friends " is a saying, whose use is not yet accomplished and done with. Many people who would start back in horror at the mere thought of committing any breach of certain conventional rules, will wantonly violate the ethical and unwritten laws of good breeding without hesitation.
Thus a lady in the country will make a call upon a friend in the morning hours, when she is well aware that the said friend has only one, or perhaps no servant, and is obliged to be busied over her housework. If the thoughtless caller happens to be rich in the goods of this world, and drives up to the friend's door in her carriage, she will be almost certain to mortify the other's feelings by her untimely arrival.
There is a certain gentleman in New York who moves in what is considered the best society, and who is very punctilious in most matters of ceremony; but he frequently enters the houses of his friends without first paying his respects to the door-mat. Well, possibly such men are to be found out of New York too. Other gentlemen endeavor to " sit each other out when calling, although they know perfectly well that according to the laws of good manners the first-comer should be the first to take his leave.
According to strict rules, a man should never call upon a young lady without asking also for her mother or chaperon; but where a young man knows a young lady very well this formality is apt to be dispensed with. Society in America is growing more strict on this subject, however, than it used to be, and the chaperon is gradually assuming larger and larger powers, and taking more and more the position of an English or Continental matron. It is a question upon which there is a wide difference of opinion, and of which more will be said in another chapter.
Certainly in making a formal call a gentleman should ask for the lady of the house as well as for the young ladies, and should leave cards for her and for the gentlemen of the family. Such a call should be made after an invitation to a dinner, luncheon or similar function, within a week, or according to some authorities, within two weeks of the event, especially if it is a first invitation. Should this be impossible, cards may. be left, and the call paid later.
Although as we have seen, the cards of the men of the family are often left by their mothers and sisters, bachelors who go into society are expected to make personal calls on their friends and in acknowledgment of hospitality extended to them. The custom of making visits on Sunday afternoon is now popular, although some people seriously disapprove of it. A man should be careful to avoid calling on Sunday at the house of a lady who holds this view. On week-days the afternoon tea hour is convenient, for those who can leave their business in season. In New York, men call between five and half-past six o'clock. To stay later might interfere with the dinner-hour of the hostess, for many people dine at seven o'clock or even earlier, although eight is the fashionable hour.
Formal visits in the evening have been abandoned to a great extent in New York. Informal ones are still paid, nine o'clock being the usual hour. Evening dress is always worn. In suburban towns where men return late from the neighboring city, and in communities where it is the custom to dine early, the evening visit may be thought indispensable. Since the hours for meals and consequently those for visiting, differ in different localities, it is well to ascertain these. Need I say that a young man should never stay so late as to inconvenience the members of the household, no matter how charming he may find the daughter?
A man leaves a card for the lady of the house, one for the daughters and one for the gentlemen of the family, when making the first call of the season.
Should he call again, after an invitation, it is necessary to leave only one card, although it is perhaps better to leave a second, for the master of the house. If he has been asked to meet a guest, a card should be left for the latter.
A gentleman should never call on a lady unless she has asked him to do so. If he has sent her a letter of introduction, he may of course call, or he may accompany an intimate friend of the house who has obtained permission to introduce him.
A lady is at liberty to ask a gentleman to call if she wishes to do so, although a young girl should not give such an invitation until she knows him quite well, and should always phrase it in such a way as to show that not she alone but her mother also would be pleased to receive the visit. " We should be glad to see you on any Wednesday afternoon," or, " I hope we shall see you at our house." Strictly speaking, such an invitation should come from the chaperon, and not from the young girl.
A gentleman is required to call at once or leave a card upon receiving an invitation from a new acquaintance or a stranger, and also to call after the entertainment. But if he answers the invitation promptly, and calls soon after the gay event, whatever it may be, he does as well as most American gentlemen do; foreign etiquette is more stringent than ours on this, as on many other points.
It is quite permissible to leave cards without asking for the ladies of the house, where one is much pressed for time or has any special reason for not doing so; but it is not allowable on a lady's regular reception day, since this would imply that one did not care to see her.
This does not conflict with the rule in accordance with which one sends cards when invited to a special reception if unable to attend it. In this latter case the card is sent in acknowledgment of the invitation, serving also as a substitute for personal attendance. But while one may very easily be prevented from attending special receptions, one has not the same excuse where a lady has a regular day for receiving her friends throughout the season.
The custom of announcing visitors is a convenient one, since it calls the attention of the hostess to the new arrival and reminds her of a name which she may have forgotten,. Some authorities say that only men-servants should make announcements, but a trained waitress can do it quietly and acceptably. The servant precedes the visitor, inquiring the name, when the door of the drawing-room is reached. He may announce it from the threshold, drawing aside the portière for the guest to enter, or he may advance into the room far enough to make sure of the attention of the hostess.
It is not strictly necessary to leave cards upon the hall table where one is admitted to pay a visit, but it is very customary to do so. A card so left is in-tended as a reminder to the lady of the house that she may not forget who has called upon her. When calling upon a stranger, Et lady should send in her card, but she must never, under any circumstances, hand it to her hostess.
It is considered uncivil not to see a caller who has once been admitted to the house, unless there is some very strong reason for not doing so; hence it is very desirable to give servants clear directions as to what they shall say to visitors, so that no one shall be admitted by mistake. The usual formula is Mrs. is not at home " or " Mrs. is not receiving to-day." It is very unpleasant to people who are making calls if they are obliged to wait a long time before seeing the hostess; therefore where one cannot appear for some little time, it is better to send word to the visitor that Mrs. So-and-So will be very happy to see her if she can wait five or ten minutes, as the case may be.
It is certainly very uncivil to keep a caller waiting for any length of time, if one cannot make one's appearance promptly, it is usually best not to detain a visitor. I have known elderly ladies to be very much annoyed when kept waiting in this way.
Where a caller has been admitted by mistake, and one cannot come down to receive the visit, the servant should be told to apologize for her mistress, and if the latter is just going out, or is lying down, the servant may very properly say so. Where the servant is uncertain whether or not her mistress is at home to visitors, it is usual to send up a Card, although it is perhaps better form to send up the name only.
It is not considered polite to call upon a friend who is staying at another person's house, without leaving cards for the hostess also, even if the latter is a stranger to you; otherwise you appear to be making a convenience of some one else's house.
If admitted, it is usual for the caller in the course of her visit to ask whether or not the lady of the house will see her. While one must be careful to pay all due consideration to the hostess of a friend, one must also avoid forcing one's acquaintanceship upon her if she appears not to desire it, or if there is reason to suppose that she will not desire it.
The Countess says in her book, " If there are visitors staying in the house, it is better to distinguish the cards intended for them by writing their names above your own." This could only be done when the ladies were not at home; and in America it is considered in better form not to write the names thus, unless when calling at a hotel, " For Mrs. Roderick," or whoever the lady may be, being written on the upper part of the card with a black lead-pencil. It is considered inelegant to write with a colored pencil, just as it is to use colored ink.
There should always be a special place the hall table usually for the cards of the day, and the servant should be instructed to leave them there until his mistress has seen them. She can then tell by their number whether the calls were intended for herself alone, or for her visitor also.
A young lady who is visiting at the house of a friend should not invite gentlemen to call upon her, without asking her hostess whether it will be convenient and agreeable to have them do so. She should also ask the ladies of the house to come down and have the gentlemen presented to them, lest she may appear to be selfish in receiving her callers, or to be doing so in a clandestine way.
It was formerly the custom for men to bring their canes and hats into the drawing-room, when paying formal calls in the day-time. As a gentleman is not allowed to deposit these encumbrances anywhere save on the floor close to his chair, their management re-quires some little tact, or else the awkward man may step into his hat, and the forgetful one may depart without his cane. Therefore these articles, as well as the overcoat and gloves, are usually left in the hall. A man should in any case remove one or both of his gloves on entering the drawing-room, since his hostess will probably shake hands with him.
In Europe, all these things are carefully regulated, guests being received at the front door, the head of the stair-way or elsewhere, in accordance with their rank.
A lady rises when visitors enter, but need not cross the room to receive them unless she wishes to do so. If they are old friends, or people much older than herself, if they are persons of distinction, or if the lady who is receiving is of a very cordial disposition, she will be apt to go to meet them.
But in America there is no universal rule on this point, and a lady may fitly follow the promptings of her own nature in the matter, taking care that she errs neither on the side of too great effusiveness nor, still worse, on that of over-formality. She should give her hand in cordial greeting to all and should endeavor to pay equal attention to all her guests as far as is possible, and to have a few words at least with each of them. She rises again and again shakes hands, when they go. If she is engaged with the tea service when a gentleman enters or takes his leave, she may remain seated, if it is not convenient for her to rise.
As I have said elsewhere, the custom of accompanying visitors to the front door has been abandoned for the most part. If the resources of the establishment permit, on her regular reception day, a lady should touch the bell to summon the servant to open the house-door when a visitor takes her leave. Or the servant may remain in the hall, to admit callers and to show them out.
While a hostess may escort to the door an elderly lady or an intimate friend, she should never perform this service for a man. She should bid him good-bye in the drawing-room, and should never pass beyond its limits either to greet him on his arrival or to say farewell.
Where a second visitor arrives after the first has already made a call of sufficient length, the visitor who came first should take her leave soon after the arrival of the second comer, but not instantly.
For a formal call, about fifteen minutes is usually considered the proper length of time, although in New York, ten minutes will suffice, if one is in haste; one may prolong it to half an hour occasionally, but only under favorable circumstances, since it is far better to take one's leave before people begin to wish that one would go. Emerson says: "'Tis a defect in our manners, that they have not reached the prescribing a limit to visits. That every well dressed lady or gentleman should be at liberty to exceed ten minutes in his or her call on serious people shows a civilization still rude."
( Originally Published 1911 )
Early Origin Of Manners
Permanent And Transient Institutions In Society
Uses Of Society
Frankness Of Modern Manners
Visiting Cards And Their Uses
Dinners, And How To Give Them
Dinners - Service And Arrangements Of The Table
Etiquette Of The Table
Family Dinner Table - Its Furniture And Equipment
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