The Art of Entertaining Part 38

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The hands should be especially cared for, the nails carefully cut and trimmed. No matter how big or how red the hand is, the more masculine the better. Women like men to look manly, as if they could drive, row, play ball, cricket, perhaps even handle the gloves.

A gentleman's dress should be so quiet and so perfect that it will not excite remark or attention. Thackeray used to advise that a watering-pot should be applied to a new hat to take off the gloss. The suspicion of being dressed up defeats an otherwise good toilet.

We will suppose that Tilden becomes sufficiently well acquainted to be asked to join a theatre party. He must be punctual at the rendezvous, and take as a partner whomever the hostess may a.s.sign him, but in the East he must not offer to send a carriage; that must come from the giver of the party. In this, Eastern and Western etiquette are at variance, for in certain cities in the West and South a gentleman is expected to call in a carriage, and take a young lady to a party. To do this would be social ruin in Europe, nor is it allowed in Boston or New York. If, however, Tilden wishes to give a theatre party, he must furnish everything. He first asks a lady to _chaperon_ his party. He must arrange that all meet at his room, or a friend's house. He must charter an omnibus or send carriages for the whole party; he must buy the tickets. He is then expected to invite his party to sup with him after the theatre, making the feast as handsome as his means allow. This is a favourite and proper manner for a young man to return the civilities offered him. It is indispensable that he should have the mother of one of the young ladies present. The custom of having such a party with only a very young _chaperon_ has fallen, properly, into disrepute. And it seems almost unnecessary to say so, except that the offence has been committed.

A man should never force himself into any society, or go anywhere unasked. Of course, if he be taken by a lady, she a.s.sumes the responsibility, and it is an understood thing that a leader of society can take a young man anywhere. She is his sponsor.

In the early morning a young man should wear the heavy, loosely fitting English clothes now so fas.h.i.+onable, but for an afternoon promenade with a lady, or for a reception, a frock coat tightly b.u.t.toned, gray trousers, a neat tie, and plain gold pin is very good form. This dress is allowed at a small dinner in the country, or for a Sunday tea.

If men are in the Adirondacks, if flannel is the only wear, there is no dressing for dinner; but in a country house, where there are guests, it is better to make a full evening toilet, unless the hostess gives absolution. There should always be some change, and clean linen, a fresh coat, fresh shoes, etc., donned even in the quiet retirement of one's own home. Neatness, a cold bath every morning, and much exercise in the open air are among the admirable customs of young gentlemen of the present day. If every one of them, no matter how busy, how hard-worked, could come home and dress for dinner, it would be a good habit. Indeed, if all American men, like all English men, would show this attention to their wives, society would be far more elegant. A man always expects his wife to dress for him; why should he not dress for her? He is then ready for evening visits, operas, parties, theatres, wherever he may wish to go. No man should sit down to a seven o'clock dinner unless freshly dressed.

If Tilden can afford to keep a tilbury, or a dog-cart, and fine horses, so much the better for him. He can take a young girl to drive, if her mamma consents; but a servant should sit behind; that is indispensable. The livery and the whole turnout should be elegant, but not flashy, if Tilden would succeed. As true refinement comes from within, let him read the n.o.ble description of Thackeray:--

"What is it to be a gentleman? Is it to be honest, to be gentle, to be generous, to be true, to be brave, to be wise, and possessing all these qualities to exercise them in the most gentle manner? Ought a gentleman to be a loyal son, a true husband, and honest father? Ought his life to be decent, his bills to be paid, his tastes to be high and elegant? Yes, a thousand times yes!"

Young men who come to a great city to live are sometimes led astray by the success of gaudy adventurers who do not fall within the lines of the above description, men who get on by means of enormous impudence, self-a.s.surance, audacity, and plausible ways. But if they have patience and hold to the right, the gentleman will succeed, and the adventurer will fail. No such man lasts long. Give him rope enough, and he will soon hang himself.

It is not necessary here to refer to the etiquette of clubs. They are self-protecting. A man soon learns their rules and limitations. A man of honesty and character seldom gets into difficulty at his club. If his club rejects or p.r.o.nounces against him, however, it is a social stigma which it is hard to wipe out.

A young man should lose no opportunity of improving himself. Works of art are a fine means of instruction. He should read and study in his leisure hours, and frequent picture galleries and museums. A young man becomes the most agreeable of companions if he brings a keen fresh intelligence, refined tastes, and a desire to be agreeable into society. Success in society is like electricity,--it makes itself felt, and yet is unseen and indescribable.

It is a nice thing if a man has some accomplishment, such as music or elocution, and to be a good dancer is almost indispensable. Yet many a man gets on without any of these.

It is a work-a-day world that we live in, and the whole formation of our society betrays it. Then dress plainly, simply, and without display. A gentleman's servants often dress better than their master, and yet nothing is so distinctive as the dress of a gentleman. It is as much a costume of n.o.bility as if it were the velvet coat which Sir Walter Raleigh threw down before Queen Elizabeth.

It may not be inappropriate here to say a word or two on minor points.

In addressing a note to a lady, whom he does not know well, Tilden should use the third person, as follows:--

Mr. Tilden presents his compliments to Mrs. Montgomery and begs to know if she and Miss Montgomery will honor him with their company at a theatre party in the evening of April 3d, at the Chestnut Street Theatre.

R. S. V. P. 117 South Market Place.

This note should be sealed with wax, impressed with the writer's coat of arms or some favourite device, and delivered by a private messenger who should wait for an answer. In addressing a letter to a gentleman, the full t.i.tle should be used,--"Walter Tilden, Esq.," or, first name not known, "---- Tilden, Esq.," never, "Mr. Walter Tilden." If it be an invitation, it is not etiquette to say "Mister."

In writing in the first person, Tilden must not be too familiar. He must make no elisions or contractions, but fill out every word and line, as if it were a pleasure.

It is urged against us by foreigners, that the manners of men toward women partake of the freedom of the age; that they are not sufficiently respectful. But, if careless in manner, American men are the most chivalrous at heart.

At a ball a young man can ask a friend to present him to a lady who is chaperoning a young girl, and through her he can be presented to the young girl. No man should, however, introduce another man without permission. If he is presented and asks the girl to dance, a short walk is permitted before he returns his partner to the side of the _chaperon_. But it is bad manners for the young couple to disappear for a long time. No man should go into a supper-room alone, or help himself while ladies remain unhelped.

To get on in society involves so much that can never be written down that any manual is of course imperfect; for no one can predict who will succeed and who will fail. Bold and arrogant people--"cheeky"

people--succeed at first, modest ones in the long run. It is a melancholy fact that the most objectionable persons do get into fas.h.i.+onable society. It is to be feared that the possession of wealth is more desired than the possession of any other attribute; that much is forgiven in the rich man which would be rank heresy in the poor one.

We would not, however, advise Tilden to choose his friends from the worldly point simply, either of fas.h.i.+on or wealth. He should try to find those who are well bred, good, true, honourable, and generous.

Wherever they are, such people are always good society.

In the ranks of society we find sometimes the ideal gentleman. Society may not have produced so good a crop as it should have done; yet its false aims have not yet dazzled all men out of the true, the ideal breeding. There are many clubs; but there are some admirable Crichtons,--men who can think, read, study, work, and still be fas.h.i.+onable.

A man should go through the fierce fires of social compet.i.tion, and yet not be scorched. All men have not had that fine, repressive training, which makes our navy and army men such gentlemen. The breeding of the young men of fas.h.i.+on is not what their grandfathers would have called good. They sometimes have a severe and bored expression when called on to give up a selfish pleasure. One asks, "Where are their manners?"

Breeding, cultivation, manners, must start from the heart. The old saying that it takes three generations to make a gentleman makes us ask, How many does it take to unmake one? Some young and well-born men seem to be undoing the work of the three generations, and to have inherited nothing of a great ancestor but his bad manners. An American should have the best manners. He has had nothing to crush him; he is unacquainted with patronage, which in its way makes sn.o.bs, and no one loves a sn.o.b, least of all the man whom the sn.o.b cultivates.

The word "gentleman" although one of the best in the language, should not be used too much. Be a gentleman, but talk about a man. A man avoids display and cultivates simplicity, neatness, and fitness of things, if he is both a man and a gentleman.

COMPARATIVE MERITS OF AMERICAN AND FOREIGN MODES OF ENTERTAINING.

There is no better old saw in existence than that comparisons are odious; they are not only odious, but they are nearly if not quite impossible. For instance, if we compare a dinner in London with a dinner in New York, we must say, Whose dinner? What dinner? If we compare New York with Paris, we must say, What Paris? Shall we take the old Catholic aristocracy of the Faubourg St. Germain, or the upstart social spheres of the Faubourg St. Honore and the Chaussee d'Antin? Or shall we take _Tout Paris_, with its thousand ramifications, with its literary and artistic salons, the _Tout Paris mondain_, the _Tout Paris artiste_, the _Tout Paris des Premieres_, and all the rest of that heterogeneous crowd, any fragment of which could swallow up the "four hundred," and all its works?

Shall we attempt to compare New York or Was.h.i.+ngton with London, with its four millions, its Prince of Wales set, its old and sober aristocracy of cultivated people, whose ideas of refinement, culture, and of all the traditions of good society date back a thousand years?

Would it be fair, either, to attempt to say which part of this vast congeries should be taken as the sample end, and which part of America with its new civilization should be compared with any or all of these?

Therefore any thoughts which follow must be merely apologized for, as the rapid observations of a traveller, who, in seeing many countries, has loved her own the best, and who puts down these fleeting impressions, merely with a hope to benefit her own, even if sometimes criticising it.

Twenty years ago, Justin McCarthy, than whom there has been no better international critic, wrote an immortal paper called, "English and American Women Compared." It was perhaps the most complimentary, and we are therefore bound to say the fairest, description of our women ever given to the world. It came at a time when the American girl was being served up by Ouida, the American senator by Anthony Trollope, and the American _divorcee_ by Victorien Sardou, in "L'Oncle Sam."

There was never a moment when the American needed a friend more.

In that gentle, yet pungent paper, Mr. McCarthy refers to our extravagance, our love of display, our superficial criticisms of the merits of English literary women, judged from the standpoint of dress, and of a singular underlying sn.o.bbery which he observed in a few, who wished that the days of t.i.tles and of aristocratic customs could come back to the land where Thomas Jefferson tied his horse to the Capitol palings, when he went up to take the Presidential oath. Since that paper was written what a flood of prosperity has deluged the land; what a stride has been made in all the arts of entertaining! What houses we possess; what dinners we give!

What would Horace Walpole say, could he see the collections of some of our really poor people, not to mention those of our billionnaires?

Should he go out to dinner in New York, the master of Strawberry Hill and the first great collector could see more curious old furniture, more hawthorn vases, more antique teapots, more rare silver, and more _chiffons_ than he had ever dreamed of; he could see the power which a young, vigorous nation possesses when it takes a kangaroo trick of leaping backward into antiquity, or forward into strange countries, and what it can bring home from its constant globe-trotting, in exchange for some of its own silver and gold. He would also see the power which art has possessed over a nation so suddenly rich that one reads with alarm the axiom of Taine, "When a nation has reached its highest point of prosperity, and begins to decay, then blossoms the consummate flower of art."

We need not go so far back as Horace Walpole; it even astonishes the collector of last year to find that he must come to New York to buy back his j.a.panese bronzes, and his Capo di Monte, his Majolica and peach-blow vase. We may say that we have the oldest of arts, that of entertaining, wrested from the hands of the oldest of nations, and placed almost recklessly in the hands of the youngest,--as one would take a delicate musical instrument from the hands of a master and put it in the hands of a child. What wonder if in the first essay some chords are missed, some discords struck? Then we must remember that modern life is pa.s.sing, slowly but decidedly, through a great revolution, now nearly achieved. The relation of equality is gradually eclipsing every other,--that of inequality, where it does survive, taking on its least n.o.ble form, as most things do in their decay. In Europe there is still deference to t.i.tle, although the real power of feudalism was broken by Louis XI. Its shadow remains even in republican France, where if a man has not a t.i.tle he is apt to buy or to steal one. On this side of the Atlantic there is a deference paid to wealth, however obtained. This is a much greater strain upon character, a more vulgar form of sn.o.bbery than the reverence for t.i.tle; for a t.i.tle means that sometime, no matter how long ago, some one lived n.o.bly and won his spurs.

We may therefore a.s.sume that the great necromancer Prosperity, with his wand, luxury, has suddenly placed our new nation, if not on a footing with the old, certainly as a new knight in the field, whose prowess deserves that he should be mentioned. Or, to change the metaphor, we can imagine some spread-eagle orator comparing us to a David who with his smooth stones from the brook, dug up in California and Nevada, is giving all modern Goliaths a crack in the forehead.

When we come to make a comparison, however, let us narrow this down to the giving of a dinner in London, in distinction to giving a dinner in any city in America, and see what our giant can do.

London possesses a regular system of society, a social citadel, around which rally those whose birth, t.i.tle, and character are all well-known. It is conscious of an ident.i.ty of interest, which compacts its members, with the force of cement, into a single corporation.

The queen and her drawing-room, the Prince of Wales and his set, the royal family, the n.o.bility and gentry, what is called the aristocracy form a core to this apple, and this central idea goes through all its juices.

Think what it must mean to a man to read that he is descended from Harry Hotspur, Bolingbroke, Clarendon, Sidney, Spenser, Cecil. Imagine what it must have been to have known the men who daily gathered around the tables of the famous dinner-givers. Imagine what the dinners at Holland House were, and then compare such a dinner with one which any American could give. And yet, improbable as it may seem, the American dinner might be the more amusing. The American dinner would have far more flowers; it would be in a brighter room; it would be more "talky," perhaps,--but it could not be so well worth going to. In England, in the greater as well as in the simpler houses, there is a respect for intellect, for intelligence, that we have not. It is the fas.h.i.+on to invite the man or the woman who has done something to meet the most wors.h.i.+pful company, and the young countess just beginning to entertain would receive from her grandmother, who entertained Lord Byron, this advice, "My dear, always have a literary man, or an artist in your set."

The humblest literary man who has done anything well is immediately sought out and is asked to dinner; and the artist of merit, in music, painting, architecture, literature, is sure of recognition in London.

One is almost always sure to see, at a grand dinner in London, some quiet elderly woman, who receives the attention of the most distinguished guests, and one learns that she is Mrs. So-and-So, who has written a story, or a few hymns.

In this respect for the best part of us, our brains, the London dinner-giver has shown his thousand years of civilization; he is playing the harp like a master.

To return for a moment to the criticism of Justin McCarthy. He says in it, that while he admired the American taste in dress, he could not admire a certain confusion of mind, by which an otherwise kindly and well-informed American woman misjudged a person who preferred to go plain, or shabby, if you will. In fact, he stood up for the right which every English woman will claim as her own, "to be dowdy," if she will. The Queen has taught her this. While the Princess of Wales, the younger daughters of the Queen, and much of the fas.h.i.+on of London dresses itself in Paris, and is consequently very smart, there is still a cla.s.s who look down on clothes and consider them a small matter. Perhaps that is the reason why such stringent regulations are laid down for the court dress.

Magnificent, stately, and well-ordered, are the dinners of London,--a countess at the head of the table, a footman behind each chair, in great houses a very fine dinner, and splendid pieces of plate, some old china, pictures on the wall from the pencils of Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Sir Joshua. Sweet, low-voiced, and well-bred are the women, with beautiful necks, and shoulders, and fine heads. The men are they who are doing the work of the world in the House of Lords, the House of Commons, in India, in Egypt, in the Soudan; there is a multiplicity of topics of conversation. No English stiffness exists at the dinner, and there is always present some literary man or woman, some famous artist as the _piece de resistance_; such are the dinners of London.

The luncheons are simpler, and here one is sure to meet men advanced in thought, and women of ideas, and there is no question as to the rent-roll. Wealth has absolutely nothing to do with society success in London.

We might mention many a literary and artistic _salon_, over which charming and fascinating, young and fas.h.i.+onable women preside with the mingled grace, which adds a beauty and a meaning to Emerson's famous _mot_ that "fas.h.i.+on is funded politeness." We might mention many a literary or artistic man or woman of London, who is the favoured friend of these great ladies, who would, if an American, never be asked to a luncheon at Newport, or admitted to a ball at Delmonico's, because he was not fas.h.i.+onable. It would not occur to the gay entertainers to think that such a person would be desirable.

The Art of Entertaining Part 38

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