Manners and social usages,


Next Section || Previous Section || Table of Contents

Page 450 { page image viewer }

We are asked by a correspondent as to when a gentleman should wear his hat and when take it off. A gentleman wears his hat in the street, on a steamboat deck, raising it to a lady acquaintance; also in a promenade concert-room and picture-gallery. He never wears it in a theatre or opera-house, and seldom in the parlors of a hotel. The etiquette of raising the hat on the staircases and in the halls of a hotel as gentlemen pass ladies is much commended. In Europe each man raises his hat as he passes a bier, or if a hearse carrying a dead body passes him. In this country men simply raise their hats as a funeral cortége passes into a church, or at the grave. If a gentleman, particularly an elderly one, takes off his hat and stands uncovered in a draughty place, as the foyer of an opera-house, while talking to ladies, it is proper for one of them to say, “Pray resume your hat “–a delicate attention deeply prized by a respectful man, who, perhaps, would not otherwise cover his head.

Again, our young lady friends ask us many questions on the subject of propriety, showing how anxious they are to do right, but also proving how far they are from apprehending what in Old-World customs has

Page 451 { page image viewer }

been always considered propriety. In our new country the relations of men and women are necessarily simple. The whole business of etiquette is, of course, reduced to each one’s sense of propriety, and the standard must be changed as the circumstances demand. As, for instance, a lady writes to know if she should thank a gentleman for paying for her on an excursion. Now this involves a long answer. In Europe no young lady could accept an invitation to go as the guest of a young gentleman on “an excursion,” and allow him to pay for her, without losing much reputation. She would not in either England or France be received in society again. She should be invited by the gentleman through her father or mother, and one or both should accompany an her. Even then it is not customary for gentlemen to invite ladies to go on an excursion. He could invite the lady’s mother to chaperon a theatre party which he had paid for.

Another young lady asks if she could with propriety buy the tickets and take a young gentleman to the theatre. Of course she could, if her mother or chaperon would go with her; but even then the mother or chaperon should write the note of invitation.

But in our free country it is, we hear, particularly in the West, allowable for a young lady and gentleman to go off on, “an excursion” together, the gentleman paying all the expenses. If that is allowed, then, of course–to answer our correspondent’s question she should thank him. But if we were to answer the young lady’s later question, “Would this be considered etiquette ?” we should say, decidedly, No.

Page 452 { page image viewer }

Another question which we are perpetually asked is this: How to allow a gentleman a proper degree of friendly intimacy without allowing him to think himself too much of a favorite. Here we cannot bring in either etiquette or custom to decide. One very general law would be not to accept too many attentions, to show a certain reserve in dancing with him or driving with him. It is always proper for a gentleman to take a young lady out to drive in his dog-cart with his servant behind, if her parents approve; but if it is done very often, of course it looks conspicuous, and the lady runs the risk of being considered engaged. And she knows, of course, whether her looks and words give him reason to think that he is a favorite. She must decide all that herself.

Another writes to ask us if she should take a gentleman’s hat and coat when he calls. Never. Let him take care of those. Christianity and chivalry, modern and ancient custom, make a man the servant of women. The old form of salutation used by Sir Walter Raleigh and other courtiers was always, “Your servant, madam,” and it is the prettiest and most admirable way for a man to address a woman in any language.

Another asks if she should introduce a gentleman who calls to her mother. This, we should say, would answer itself did not the question re-appear. Of course she should; and her mother should always sit with her when she is receiving a call from a gentleman.

But if in our lesser fashionable circles the restrictions of etiquette are relaxed, let a young lady always remember these general principles, that men will like

Page 453 { page image viewer }

and respect her far better if she is extremely particular about allowing them to pay for her, if she refuses two invitations out of three, if she is dignified and reserved rather than if she is the reverse.

At Newport it is now the fashion for young ladies to drive young men out in their pony-phaetons with a groom behind, or even without a groom; but a gentleman never takes out a lady in his own carriage without a servant.

Gentlemen and ladies walk together in the daytime unattended, but if they ride on horseback a groom is always in attendance on the lady. In rural neighborhoods where there are no grooms, and where a young lady and gentleman go off for a drive unattended, they have thrown Old-World etiquette out of the window, and must make a new etiquette of their own. Propriety, mutual respect, and American chivalry have done for women what all the surveillance of Spanish duennas and of French etiquette has done for the young girl of Europe. If a woman is a worker, an artist, a student, or an author, she can walk the Quartier Latin of Paris unharmed.

But she has in work an armor of proof. This is not etiquette when she comes into the world. of fashion. She must observe etiquette, as she would do the laws of Prussia or of England, if she stands on foreign shores.

Perhaps we can illustrate this. Given a pretty young girl who shall arrive on the steamer Germania after being several years at school in Paris, another who comes in by rail from Kansas, another from some quiet, remote part of Georgia, and leave them all at the New York Hotel for a winter. Let us imagine

Page 454 { page image viewer }

them all introduced at a New York ball to three gentlemen, who shall call on them the next day. If the girl educated in Paris, sitting by her mamma, hears the others talk to the young men she will be shocked. The girls who have been brought up far from the centres of etiquette seem to her to have no modesty, no propriety. They accept invitations from the young men to go to the theatre alone, to take drives, and perhaps, as we have said, to “go on an excursion.”

To the French girl this seems to be a violation of propriety; but later on she accepts an invitation to go out on a coach, with perhaps ten or twelve others, and with a very young chaperon. The party does not return until twelve at night, and as they walk through the corridors to a late supper the young Western girl meets them, and sees that the young men are already the worse for wine: she is apt to say, “What a rowdy crowd!” and to think that, after all, etiquette permits its own sins, in which she is right.

In a general statement it may be as well to say that a severe etiquette would prevent a young lady from receiving gifts from a young man, except bonbonnières and bouquets. It is not considered proper for him to offer her clothing of any sort–as gowns, bonnets, shawls, or shoes–even if he is engaged to her. She may use her discretion about accepting a camel’s-hair shawl from a man old enough to be her father, but she should never receive jewellery from any one but a relative or her fiancé just before marriage. The reason for this is obvious. It has been abused–the privilege which all men desire, that of decking women with finery.

Page 455 { page image viewer }

A young lady should not write letters to young men, or send them presents, or take the initiative in any way. A friendly correspondence is very proper if the mother approves, but even this has its dangers. Let a young lady always remember that she is to the young man an angel to reverence until she lessens the distance between them and extinguishes respect.

Young women often write to us as to whether it is proper for them to write letters of condolence or congratulation to ladies older than themselves. We should say, Yes. The respect of young girls is always felt gratefully by older ladies. The manners of the present are vastly to be objected to on account of a lack of respect. The rather bitter Mr. Carlyle wrote satirically Of the manners of young ladies. He even had his fling at their laugh: “Few are able to laugh what can be called laughing, but only sniff and titter from the throat outward, or at best produce some whiffling husky cachinnations as if they were laughing through wool. Of none such comes good.” A young lady must not speak too loud or be too boisterous; she must even tone down her wit, lest she be misunderstood. But she need not be dull, or grumpy, or ill-tempered, or careless of her manners, particularly to her mother’s old friends. She must not talk slang, or be in any way masculine; if she is, she loses the battle. A young lady is sometimes called upon to be a hostess if her mother is dead. Here her liberty becomes greater, but she should always have an aunt or some elderly friend by her side to play chaperon.

A young lady may do any manual labor without losing caste. She may be a good cook, a fine laundress,

Page 456 { page image viewer }

a carver of wood, a painter, a sculptor, an embroideress, a writer, a physician, and she will be eligible, if her manners are good, to the best society anywhere. But if she outrage the laws of good-breeding in the place where she is, she cannot expect to take her place in society. Should she be seen at Newport driving two gentlemen in her pony-phaeton, or should she and another young woman take a gentleman between them and drive down Bellevue Avenue, she would be tabooed. It would not be a wicked act, but it would not look well; it would not be convenable. If she dresses “loudly,” with peculiar hats and a suspicious complexion, she must take the consequences. She must be careful (if she is unknown) not to attempt to copy the follies of well-known fashionable women. What will be forgiven to Mrs. Well Known Uptown will never be forgiven to Miss Kansas. Society in this respect is very unjust–the world is always unjust–but that is a part of the truth of etiquette which is to be remembered; it is founded on the accidental conditions of society, having for its background, however, the eternal principles of kindness, politeness, and the greatest good of society.

A young lady who is very prominent in society should not make herself too common; she should not appear in too many charades, private theatricals, tableaux, etc. She should think of the “violet by the mossy stone.” She must, also, at a watering-place remember that every act of hers is being criticised by a set of lookers-on who are not all friendly, and she must, ere she allow herself to be too much of a belle, remember to silence envious tongues.