Manners and social usages,

CHAPTER L.HOW TO TREAT A GUEST.


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No one possessed of his senses would invite a person to his country house for the purpose of making him unhappy. At least so we should say at first thought. But it is an obvious fact that very many guests are invited to the country houses of their friends, and are made extremely miserable while there. They have to rise at unusual hours, eat when they are not hungry, drive or walk or play tennis when they would prefer to do everything else, and they are obliged to give up those hours which are precious to them for other duties or pleasures; so that many people, after an experience of visiting, are apt to say, “No more of the slavery of visiting for me, if you please!”

Now the English in their vast country houses have reduced the custom of visiting and receiving their friends to a system. They are said to be in all respects the best hosts in the world, the masters of the letting-alone system. A man who owns a splendid place near London invites a guest for three days or more, and carefully suggests when he shall come and when he shall go–a very great point in hospitality. He is invited to come by the three o’clock train on Monday, and to leave by the four o’clock train on

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Thursday. That means that he shall arrive before dinner on Monday, and leave after luncheon on Thursday. If a guest cannot accede to these hours, he must write and say so. Once arrived, he rarely meets his host or hostess until dinner-time. He is conducted to his room, a cup of tea with some light refreshment is provided, and the well-bred servant in attendance says at what hour before dinner he will be received in the drawing-room. It is possible that some member of the family may be disengaged and may propose a drive before dinner, but this is not often done; the guest is left to himself or herself until dinner. General and Mrs. Grant were shown to their rooms at Windsor Castle, and locked up there, when they visited the Queen, until the steward came to tell them that dinner would be served in half an hour; they were then conducted to the grand salon, where the Queen presently entered. In less stately residences very much the same ceremony is observed. The hostess, after dinner and before the separation for the night, tells her guests that horses will be at their disposal the next morning, and also asks if they would like to play lawn-tennis, if they wish to explore the park, at what hour they will breakfast, or if they will breakfast in their rooms. “Luncheon is at one; and she will be happy to see them at that informal meal.”

Thus the guest has before him the enviable privilege of spending the day as he pleases. He need not talk unless he choose; he may take a book and wander off under the trees; he may take a horse and explore the county, or he may drive in a victoria,

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phaeton, or any other sort of carriage. To a lady who has her letters to write, her novel to read, or her early headache to manage, this liberty is precious.

It must also be said that no one is allowed to feel neglected in an English house. If a lady guest says, “I am a stranger; I should like to see your fine house and your lovely park,” some one is found to accompany her. Seldom the hostess, for she has much else to do; but there is often a single sister, a cousin, or a very intelligent governess, who is summoned. In our country we cannot offer our guests all these advantages; we can, however, offer them their freedom, and give them, with our limited hospitality, their choice of hours for breakfast and their freedom from our society.

But the questioner may ask, Why invite guests, unless we wish to see them? We do wish to see them–apart of the day, not the whole day. No one Can sit and talk all day. The hostess should have her privilege of retiring after the mid-day meal, with her novel, for a nap, and so should the guest: Well-bred people understand all this, and are glad to give up the pleasure of social intercourse for an hour of solitude. There is nothing so sure to repay one in the long run as these quiet hours.

If a lady invites another to visit her at Newport or Saratoga, she should evince her thought for her guest’s comfort by providing her with horses and carriage to pay her own visits, to take her own drives, or to do her shopping. Of course, the pleasure of two friends is generally to be together, and to do the same things; but sometimes it is quite the reverse.

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The tastes and habits of two people staying in the same house may be very different, and each should respect the peculiarities of the other. It costs little time and no money for an opulent Newport hostess to find out what her guest wishes to do with her day, and she can easily, with a little tact, allow her to be happy in her own way.

Gentlemen understand this much better than ladies, and a gentleman guest is allowed to do very much as he pleases at Newport. No one asks anything about his plans for the day, except if he will dine at home. His hostess may ask him to drive or ride with her, or to go to the Casino, perhaps; but if she be a well. bred woman of the world she will not be angry if he refuses. A lady guest has not, however, such freedom; she is apt to be a slave, from the fact that as yet the American hostess has not learned that the truest hospitality is to let her guest alone, and to allow her to enjoy herself in her own way. A thoroughly well-bred guest makes no trouble in a house; she has the instinct of a lady, and is careful that no plan of her hostess shall be disarranged by her presence. She mentions all her, separate invitations, desires to know when her hostess wishes her presence, if the carriage can take her hither and yon, or if she may be allowed to hire a carriage.

There are hostesses, here and in England, who do not invite guests to their houses for the purpose of making them happy, but to add to their own importance. Such hostesses are not apt to consider the individual rights of any one, and they use a guest merely to add to the brilliancy of their parties, and to make

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the house more fashionable and attractive. Some ill-bred women, in order to show their power, even insult and illtreat the people who have accepted their proffered hospitality. This class of hostess is, fortunately, not common, but it is not unknown.

A hostess should remember that, when she asks people to visit her, she has two very important duties to perform–one, not to neglect her guests; the other, not to weary them by too much attention. Never give a guest the impression that he is “being entertained,” that he is on your mind; follow the daily life of your household and of your duties as you desire, taking care that your guest is never in an unpleasant position or neglected. If you have a tiresome guest who insists upon following you around and weighing heavily on your hands, be firm, go to your own room, and lock the door. If you have a sulky guest who looks bored, throw open the library-door, order the carriage, and make your own escape. But if you have a very agreeable guest who shows every desire to please and be pleased, give that model guest the privilege of choosing her own hours and her own retirement.

The charm of an American country-house is, generally, that it is a home, and sacred to home duties. A model guest never infringes for one moment on the rights of the master of the house. She never spoils his dinner or his drive by being late; she never sends him back to bring her parasol; she never abuses his friends or the family dog; she is careful to abstain from disagreeable topics; she joins his whist-table if she knows how to play; but she ought

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never to be obliged to rise an hour earlier than her wont because he wishes to take an early train for town. These early-morning, perfunctory breakfasts are not times for conversation, and they ruin the day for many bad sleepers.

In a country neighborhood a hostess has sometimes to ask her guests to go to church to hear a stupid preacher, and to go to her country neighbors, to become acquainted with what may be the slavery of country parties. The guest should always be allowed to refuse these hospitalities; and, if he be a tired townsman, he will prefer the garden, the woodland, the retirement of the country, to any church or tea-party in the world. He cannot enter into his host’s interests or his neighbor’s. Leave him to his solitude if in that is his happiness.

At Newport guest and hostess have often different friends and different invitations. When this is understood, no trouble ensues if the host and hostess go out to dinner and leave the guest at home. It often happens that this is done, and no lady of good-breeding takes offence. Of course a nice dinner is prepared for her, and she is often asked to invite a friend to share it.

On the other hand, the guest often has invitations which do not include the hostess. These should be spoken of in good season, so that none of the hostess’s plans may be disarranged, that the carriage may be ordered in time, and the guest sent for at the proper hour. Well-bred people always accept these contingencies as a matter of course, and are never disconcerted by them.

There is no office in the world which should be

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filled with such punctilious’ devotion, propriety, and self-respect as that of hostess. If a lady ever allows her guest to feel that she is a cause of inconvenience, she violates the first rule of hospitality. If she fail in any way in her obligations as hostess to a guest whom she has invited, she shows herself to be ill-bred and ignorant of the first principles of politeness. She might better invite twelve people to dinner and then ask them to dine on the pavement than ignore or withdraw from a written and accepted invitation, unless sickness or death afford the excuse; and yet hostesses have been known to do this from mere caprice. But they were necessarily ill-bred people.

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