The Art of Entertaining Part 24
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Glazed chintzes may be hung at the windows, without lining, as the light s.h.i.+nes through the flowers, making a good effect. Chenille curtains of soft rich colours are appropriate for the modern bedroom.
Madras muslin curtains will do for the windows, but are not heavy enough for portieres.
There are hangings made of willow bamboo, which can be looped back, or left hanging, which give a window a furnished look, without intercepting the light. Low wooden tables painted red, tables for writing materials, brackets on the walls for vases, candlesticks, and photograph screens, a long couch with many pillows, a Shaker rocking-chair, a row of hanging book-shelves,--these, with bed and curtains in fresh tints, make a pretty room in a country house.
If possible, people who entertain much should have a suite of bedrooms for guests, so that no one need be turned out of one's room to make way for a guest.
Bra.s.s beds are to be recommended as cleanly, handsome, and durable.
Many ladies have, however, found fault with them because they show the under mattress, where the clothes are tucked in over the upper one.
This can be remedied by making a valance which is finished with a ruffle at the top, which can be fluted, the whole tied on by tapes.
Two or three of these in white will be all that a housekeeper needs, and if made of pretty coloured merino to match the room, they will last clean a long time.
Every bedroom should have, if possible, a dressing-room, where the wash-stand, wardrobe, bath-tub, box for boots and shoes, box for soiled clothes, and toilet-table, perhaps, can be kept. In the new sanitary houses in London, the water cistern is placed in view behind gla.s.s in these rooms, so that if anything is the matter with the water supply, it can be remedied immediately. However, in old fas.h.i.+oned houses, where dressing-rooms cannot be evoked, screens can be so placed as to conceal the unornamental objects.
A toilet-table should be ornamental and not hidden, with its curtains, pockets, looking-gla.s.ses, little bows, shelves for bottles, devices for secret drawers for love letters, and so on. Ivory brushes with the owner's monogram, all sorts of pretty j.a.panese boxes, and dressing-cases, silver-backed brushes and mirrors, b.u.t.tonhooks, knives, scissors can be neatly laid out.
A little table for afternoon tea should stand ready, with a tray of Satsuma or old Worcester, with cups and tea equipage, and a copper kettle with alcohol lamp should stand on a bracket on the wall. In the heating of water, a trivet should be attached to the grate, and a little iron kettle might sing forever on the hob. Ornamental ottomans in plush covers, which open and disclose a wood box, should stand by the fireplace. Chameleon gla.s.s lamps with king-fisher stems are pretty on the mantel-piece, which can be upholstered to match the bed; and there may be vases in amber, primrose, cream-colour, pale blue, and ruby. No fragrant flowers or growing plants should be allowed in a bedroom. There should be at least one clock in the room, to strike the hour with musical reiteration.
As for baths, the guest should be asked if he prefers hot or cold water, and the hour at which he will have it. If a tin hat-bath, or an india-rubber tub is used, the maid should enter and arrange it in this manner: first lay a rubber cloth on the floor and then place the tub on it. Then bring a large pail of cold water, and a can of hot. Place near the tub a towel-rack hung with fresh towels, both damask and Turkish, and if a full-length Turkish towel be added it will be a great luxury. If the guest be a gentleman, and no man-servant be kept, this should all be arranged the night before, with the exception of course of the hot water, which can be left outside the door at any hour in the morning when it is desired. If it is a stationary tub, of course the matter is a simple one, and depends on the turn of a couple of faucets.
Some visitors are very fussy and dislike to be waited on; to such the option must be given: "Do you prefer to light your own fire, to turn on your bath, to make your own tea, or shall the maid enter at eight o'clock and do it for you?" Such questions are often asked in an English country house. Every facility for doing the work would of course be supplied to the visitor.
The bedroom being nowadays made so very attractive, the guest should stay in it as much as possible, if he or she find that the hostess likes to be alone; in short, absent yourself occasionally. Do your letter-writing and some reading in your room. Most people prefer this freedom and like to be let alone in the morning.
At a country house, gentlemen should be very particular to dress for dinner. If not in the regulation claw-hammer, still with a change of garment. There is a very good garment called a smokee, which is worn by gentlemen in the summer, a sort of light jacket of black cloth, which goes well with either black or white cravat; but with all the _laisser aller_ of a country visit, inattention to the proprieties of dress is not included.
A guest must go provided with a lawn-tennis costume, if he plays that n.o.ble game which has become the great consolation of our rising generation. No doubt the hostess blesses the invention of this great time killer, as she sees her men and maidens trooping out to the ground, under the trees. This suggests the subject of out-of-door refreshment, the claret cup, the champagne cup, the shandy gaff, the fresh cider, and the thousand and one throat-coolers, for which our American genius seems to have been inspired to meet the drain of a very dry climate, and which we shall consider elsewhere.
ENTERTAINING IN A COUNTRY HOUSE.
We who love the country salute you who love the town. I praise the rivulets, the rocks overgrown with moss, and the groves of the delightful country. And do you ask why? I live and reign as soon as I have quitted those things which you extol to the skies with joyful applause, and like a priest's fugitive-slave I reject luscious wafers; I desire plain bread, which is more agreeable than honied cakes.--HORACE, _Ode_ X.
Poets have been in the habit of praising a country life since the days of Homer, but Americans have not as a people appreciated its joys. As soon as a countryman was able to do it, he moved to the largest city near him, presumably New York, or perhaps Paris. The condition of opulence, much desired by those who had been bred in poverty, suggested at once the greater convenience of a town life, and the busy work-a-day world, to which most Americans are born, necessitates the nearness to Wall Street, to banks, to people, and to the town.
City people were content formerly to give their children six weeks of country air, and old New Yorkers did not move out of the then small city, even in the hot months. The idea of going to the country to live for pleasure, to find in it a place in which to spend one's money and to entertain, has been, to the average American mind, a thing of recent growth. Perhaps our climate has much to do with this. People bred in the country feared to meet that long cold winter of the North, which even to the well-to-do was filled with suffering. Who does not remember the ice in the pitcher of a morning, which must be broken before even faces were washed?
Therefore the furnace-heated city house, the companions.h.i.+p, the bustle, the stir, and convenience of a city has been, naturally enough, preferred to the loneliness of the country. As Hawthorne once said, Americans were not yet sufficiently civilized to live in the country. When he went to England, and saw a different order of things, he understood why.
England, a small place with two thousand years of civilization, with admirable roads, with landed estates, with a mild winter, with a taste for sport, with dogs, horses, and well-trained servants, was a very different place.
It may be years before we make our country life as agreeable as it is in England. We have to conquer climate first. But the love of country life is growing in America. Those so fortunate as to be able to live in a climate like that of southern California can certainly quote Horace with sympathy. Those who live so near to a great city as to command at once city conveniences and country air and freedom, are amongst the fortunate of the earth. And to hundreds, thousands of such, in our delightfully prosperous new country, the art of entertaining in a country house a.s.sumes a new interest.
No better model for a hostess can be found than an Englishwoman. There is, when she receives her guests, a quiet cordiality, a sense of pleasurable expectancy, an inbred ease, grace, suavity, composure, and respect for her visitors, which seems to come naturally to a well-bred Englishwoman; that is to say, to the best types of the highest cla.s.s. To be sure they have had vast experience in the art of entertaining; they have learned this useful accomplishment from a long line of well-trained predecessors. They have no domestic cares to worry them. At the head of her own house, an Englishwoman is as near perfection as a human being can be.
There is the great advantage of the English climate, to begin with. It is less exciting than ours. Nervous women are there almost unknown.
Their ability to take exercise, the moist and soft air they breathe, their good appet.i.te and healthy digestion give English women a physical condition almost always denied to an American.
Our climate drives us on by invisible whips; we breathe oxygen more intoxicating than champagne. The great servant question bothers us from the cradle to the grave; it has never entered into an English woman's scheme of annoyance, so that in an English hostess there is a total absence of fussiness.
English women spend the greater part of the year in travelling, or at home in the country. Town life is with them a matter of six weeks or three months at the most. They are fond of nature, of walking, of riding; they share with the men a more vigorous physique than is given to any other race. A French or Italian woman dreads a long walk, the companions.h.i.+p of a dozen dogs, the yachting and the race course, the hunting-field and the lawn tennis pursued with indefatigable vigilance; but the fair English girl, with her blus.h.i.+ng cheeks, her dog, her pony, and her hands full of wild flowers, is a character worth crossing the ocean to see. She is the product of the highest civilization, and as such is still near the divine model which nature furnishes. She has the underlying charm of simplicity, she is the very rose of perfect womanhood. She may seem shy, awkward, and reserved, but what the world calls pride or coldness may turn out to be hidden virtue, or reserve, or modesty.
English home education is a seminary of infinite importance; a girl learns to control her speech, to be always calm and well-bred. She has been toned down from her youth. She has been carefully taught to respect the duties of her high position; she has this advantage to counterbalance the disadvantage which we freeborn citizens think may come with an overpride of birth,--she has learned the motto _n.o.blesse oblige_. The English fireside is a beacon light forever to the soldier in the Crimea, to the colonist in Australia, to the grave official in India, to the missionary in the South Seas, to the English boy wherever he may be. It sustains and enn.o.bles the English woman at home and abroad.
As a hostess, the English woman is sure to mould her house to look like home. She has soft low couches for those who like them, high-backed tall chairs for the tall, low chairs for the lowly. She has her bookcases and pretty china scattered everywhere, she has work-baskets and writing-tables and flowers, particularly wild ones, which look as if she had tossed them in the vases herself. Her house looks cheerful and cultivated.
I use the word advisedly, for all taste must be cultivated. A state apartment in an old English house can be inexpressibly dreary. High ceilings, stiff old girandoles, pictures of ancestors, miles of mirrors, and the Laoc.o.o.n or other specimens of Grecian art, which no one cares for except in the Vatican, and the ceramic and historical horrors of some old collector, who had no taste,--are enough to frighten a visitor. But when a young or an experienced English hostess has smiled on such a house, there will be some delightful lumber strewn around, no end of pretty brackets and baskets and curtains and screens, and couches piled high with cus.h.i.+ons; and then the quaint carvings, the rather affected niches, the mantelpiece nearly up to the ceiling, as in Hogarth's picture,--all these become humanized by her touch. The spirit of a hostess should aim at the combination of use and beauty. Some finer spirits command both, as Brunelleschi hung the dome at Florence high in air, and made a thing of beauty, which is a joy forever, but did not forget to build under it a convenient church as well. As for the bedrooms in an English country house, they transcend description, they are the very apotheosis of comfort.
The dinners are excellent, the breakfast and lunch comfortable, informal, and easy, the horses are at your disposal, the lawn and garden are yours for a stroll, the chapel lies near at hand, where you can study architecture and ancient bra.s.s. There are pleasant people in the house, you are let alone, you are not being entertained. That most dreadful of sensations, that somebody has you on his mind, and must show you photographs and lift off your _ennui_ is absent; you seem to be in Paradise.
English people will tell you that house parties are dull,--not that all are, but some are. No doubt the jaded senses lose the power of being pleased. A visit to an English house, to an American who brings with her a fresh sense of enjoyment, and who remembers the limitations of a new country, one who loves antiquity, history, old pictures, and all that time can do, one who is hungry for Old World refinements, to such an one a visit to an English country house is delightful. To a worn-out English set whose business it has been for a quarter of a century to go from one house to another, no doubt it is dull. Some unusual distraction is craved.
"To relieve the monotony and silence and the dull, depressing cloud which sometimes settles on the most admirably arranged English dinner-party, even an American savage would be welcomed," says a modern novel-writer. How much more welcome then is a pretty young woman who, with a true enthusiasm and a wild liberty, has found her opportunity and uses it, plays the banjo, tells fortunes by the hand, has no fear of rank, is in her set a glacier of freshness with a heart of fire, like Roman punch.
How much more gladly is a young American woman welcomed, in such a house, and how soon her head is turned. She is popular until she carries off the eldest son, and then she is severely criticised, and by her spoiled caprices becomes a heroine for Ouida to rejoice in, and the _fond_ of a society novel.
But the glory is departing from many a stately English country house.
Fortune is failing them; they are, many of them, to rent. Rich Americans are buying their old pictures. The Gainsboroughs, the Joshua Reynoldses, the Rembrandts, which have been the pride of English country houses, are coming down, charmed by the silver music of the almighty dollar; the old fairy tale is coming true,--even the furniture dances.
We have the money and we have the vivacity, according to even our severest critics; we have now to cultivate the repose of an English hostess, if we would make our country houses as agreeable as she does.
We cannot improvise the antiquity, or the old chapel, or the bra.s.ses; we cannot make our roads as fine as those which enable an English house party to drive sixteen miles to a dinner; in fact we must admit that they have been nine hundred years making a lawn even. But we must try to do things our own way, and use our own advantages so that we can make our guests comfortable.
The American autumn is the most glorious of seasons for entertaining in a country house. Nature hangs our hillsides then with a tapestry that has no equal even at Windsor. The weather, that article which in America is so apt to be good that if it is bad we apologize for it, is more than apt to be good in October, and makes the duties of a hostess easy then, for Nature helps to entertain.
It is to be feared that we have not yet learned to be guests. Trusting to that boundless American hospitality which has been apt to say, "Come when you please and stay as long as you can," we decline an invitation for the 6th, saying we can come on the 9th. This cannot be done when people begin to give house-parties. We must go on the 6th or not at all.
We should also define the limits of a visit, as in England; one is asked on Wednesday to arrive at five, to leave at eleven on Sat.u.r.day.
Then one does not overstay one's welcome. Host and hostess and guest must thoroughly understand one another on this point, and then punctuality is the only thing to be considered.
The opulent, who have butler, footman, and French cooks, need read no further in this chapter, the remainder of which will be directed to that larger cla.s.s who have neither, and who have to help themselves.
No lady should attempt to entertain in the country who has not a good cook, and one or two attendant maids who can wait well and perform other duties about the house. With these three and with a good deal of knowledge herself, a hostess can make a country house attractive.
The dining-room should be the most agreeable room in the house, shaded in the morning and cool in the afternoon,--a large room with a hard-wood floor and mats, if possible, as these are clean and cool.
Carving should be done by one of the servants at a side table. There is nothing more depressing on a warm evening than a smoking joint before one's plate. A light soup only should be served, leaving the more substantial varieties for cold weather.
Nowadays the china and gla.s.s are so very pretty, and so very cheap, that they can be bought and used and left in the house all winter without much risk. If people are living in the country all winter a different style of furnis.h.i.+ng, and a different style of entertaining is no doubt in order.
It is well to have very easy laws about breakfast, and allow a guest to descend when he wishes. If possible give your guest an opportunity to breakfast in his room. So many people nowadays want simply a cup of tea, and to wait until noon before eating a heavy meal; so many desire to eat steaks, chops, toast, eggs, hot cakes, and coffee at nine o'clock, that it is difficult for a hostess to know what to do. Her best plan, perhaps, is to have an elastic hour, and let her people come down when they feel like it. In England the maid enters the bedroom with tea, excellent black tea, a toasted m.u.f.fin, and two boiled eggs at eight o'clock, a pitcher of hot water for the wash-stand, and a bath. No one is obliged to appear until luncheon, nor even then if indisposed so to do. Dinner at whatever hour is a formal meal, and every one should come freshly dressed and in good form, as the English say.
The Arab law of hospitality should be printed over every lintel in a country house: "Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest;" "He who tastes my salt is sacred; neither I nor my household shall attack him, nor shall one word be said against him. Bring corn, wine, and fruit for the pa.s.sing stranger. Give the one who departs from thy tents the swiftest horse. Let him who would go from thee take the fleet dromedary, reserve the lame one for thyself." If these momentous hints were carried out in America, and if these children of the desert, with their grave faces, composed manners, and n.o.ble creed, could be literally obeyed, we fear country-house visiting would become almost too popular.
But if we cannot give them the fleet dromedary, we can drive them to the fast train, which is much better than any dromedary. We can make them comfortable, and enable them to do as they like. Unless we can do that, we should not invite any one.
Unless a guest has been rude, it is the worst taste to criticise him.
The Art of Entertaining Part 24
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The Art of Entertaining Part 24 summary
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