A Guide to the Manners, Etiquette, and Deportment

of the Most Refined Society 

by John H. Young, A.M. ©1879, W.C. King & Co., America

 Introductory (p. 17)

A French writer has said: “To be truly polite, it is necessary to be, at the same time, good, just, and generous. True politeness is the outward visible sign of those inward spiritual graces called modesty, unselfishness and generosity. The manners of a gentleman are the index of his soul. His speech is innocent, because his life is pure; his thoughts are right, because his actions are upright; his bearing is gentle, because his feelings, his impulses, and his training are gentle also. A gentleman is entirely free from every kind of pretence. He avoids homage, instead of exacting it. Mere ceremonies have no attraction for him. He seeks not to say any civil things, but to do them. His hospitality, though hearty and sincere, will be strictly regulated by his means. His friends will be chosen for their good qualities and good manners; his servants for their truthfulness and honesty; his occupations for their usefulness, their gracefulness or their elevating tendencies, whether moral, mental or political.”


Introductory, (p. 19)

A recent English writer says: “Etiquette may be defined as the minor morality of life. No observances, however minute, that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station.” While the social observances, customs and rules which have grown up are numerous, and some perhaps considered trivial, they are all grounded upon principles of kindness to one another, and spring from the impulses of a good heart and from friendly feelings. The truly polite man acts from the highest and noblest ideas of what is right.


Chapter 3, Introductions (p. 31-32)

An acquaintanceship or friendship usually begins by means of introductions, though it is by no means uncommon that when it has taken place under other circumstance – without introduction – it has been a great advantage to both parties; nor can it be said that it is improper to begin an acquaintance in this way. The formal introduction has been called the highway to the beginning of friendship, and the “scraped” acquaintance the by-path.


There is a large class of people who introduce friends and acquaintances to everybody they meet, whether at home or abroad, while walking or riding out. Such promiscuous introductions are neither necessary, desirable, nor at all times agreeable.


It is to be remembered that an introduction is regarded as a social endorsement of the person introduced, and that, under certain circumstances, it would be wrong to introduce to our friends casual acquaintances, of whom we know nothing, and who may afterwards prove to be anything but desirable persons to know. Care should be taken, therefore, in introducing two individuals, that the introduction be mutually agreeable. Whenever it is practicable, it is best to settle the point by inquiring beforehand, When this is inexpedient from any cause, a thorough acquaintance with both parties will warrant the introducer to judge of the point for him or herself.


Chapter 3, Introductions (p. 33-34)

It is the part of the host and hostess at a ball to introduce their guests, though guests may, with perfect propriety, introduce each other, or, as already intimated, may converse with one another without the ceremony of a formal introduction. A gentleman, before introducing his friends to ladies, should obtain permission of the latter to do so, unless he is perfectly sure, from his knowledge of the ladies, that the introductions will be agreeable. The ladies should always grant such permission, unless there is a strong reason for refusing. The French, and to some extent the English, dispense with introductions at a private ball. The fact that they have been invited to meet each other is regarded as a guaranty that they are fit to be mutually acquainted, and is a sufficient warrant for self-introduction. At a public ball partners must be introduced to each other. Special introducing may be made with propriety by the master of ceremonies. At public balls it is well for ladies to dance only, or for the most part, with gentlemen of their own party, or those with whom they have had a previous acquaintance.


Chapter 7, Etiquette of Cards (p. 78 & 79, excerpts)

The signification of turning down the corners of [calling] cards are:

Visite – The right hand upper corner.

Felicitation – The left hand upper corner.

Condolence – The left hand lower corner.

Delivered in Person – Card, right hand end turned down.

P.P.C. (Pour Prendre Conge)/To Take Leave – The right hand lower corner.

P.P.C. cards are not left when the absence from home is only for a few months, nor by persons starting in mid-summer for a foreign country, as residents are then supposed to be out of town.


Chapter 11, Receptions, Parties and Balls (p. 133-144, excerpts)

The requisites for a successful ball are good music and plenty of people to dance. An English writer says, “The advantage of the ball is, that it brings young people together for a sensible and innocent recreation, and takes them away from silly, if not from bad ones; that it gives them exercise, and that the general effect of the beauty, elegance and brilliancy of a ball is to elevate rather than to deprave the mind.” It may be that the round dance is monopolizing the ball room to a too great extent, and it is possible that these may be so frequent as to mar the pleasure of some persons who do not care to participate in them, to the exclusion of “square “ and other dances. America should not be the only nation that confines ball room dancing to waltzes, as is done in some of our cities. There should be an equal number of waltzes and quadrilles, with one or two contra dances, which would give an opportunity to those who object (or whose parents object) to round dances to appear on the floor.


Preparations for a Ball: There should be dressing-rooms for ladies and gentlemen, with a servant or servants to each. There should be cards with the names of the invited guests upon them, or checks with duplicates to be given to the guests ready to pin upon the wraps of each one. Each dressing-room should be supplied with a complete set of toilet articles. It is customary to decorate the house elaborately with flowers. Although this is an expensive luxury, it adds much to beautifying the rooms.


The Music: Four musicians are enough for a “dance.” When the dancing room is small, the flageolet* is preferable to the horn, as it is less noisy and marks the time as well. The piano and violin form the mainstay of the band; but when the rooms are large enough, a larger band may be employed. [*Flageolet = a small wind instrument of the fipple flute family, similar to a recorder (Fipple flute: in music, a type of wind instrument, as the recorder, in which the sound waves are formed inside the pipe after the breath is diverted by a fipple.)]


Introductions at a Ball: Gentlemen who are introduced to ladies at a ball, solely for the purpose of dancing, wait to be recognized before speaking with ladies upon meeting afterwards, but they are at liberty to recall themselves by lifting their hats in passing. In England a ball-room acquaintance rarely goes any farther, until they have met at more balls than one…an introduction given for dancing purposes does not constitute acquaintanceship. With us, as in Continental Europe, it does. It is for this reason that in England, ladies are expected to bow first, while on the Continent it is the gentlemen who give the first marks of recognition, as it should be here, or better still, simultaneously, when the recognition is simultaneous…Introductions take place in a ball room in order to provide ladies with partners, or between persons residing in different cities. In all other cases permission is asked before giving introductions. But where a hostess is sufficiently discriminating in the selection of her guests, those assembled under her roof should remember that they are, in a certain sense, made known to one another, and ought, therefore, to be able to converse freely without introductions.


The Dances: The dances should be arranged beforehand, and for large balls programes are printed with a list of the dances. Usually a ball opens with a waltz, followed by a quadrille, and these are succeeded by gallops, lancers, polkas, quadrilles and waltzes in turn.


The Supper: The supper-room at a ball is thrown open generally at twelve o’clock… When supper is announced, the host leads the way with the lady to whom he wishes to show especial attention, who may be an elderly lady, or a stranger or a bride. The hostess remains until the last, with the gentleman who takes her to supper, unless some distinguished guest is present, with whom she leads the way. No gentleman should ever go into the supper-room alone, unless he has seen every lady enter before him. When ladies are left unattended, gentlemen, although strangers, are at liberty to offer their services in waiting upon them, for the host and hostess are sufficient guarantees of the respectability of their guests.


The Number to Invite: Persons giving balls or dancing parties should be careful not to invite more than their rooms will accommodate, so as to avoid a crush. Invitations to crowded balls are not hospitalities, but inflictions. A hostess is usually safe, however, in inviting one-fourth more than her rooms will hold, as that proportion of regrets are apt to be received. People who do not dance will not, as a rule, expect to be invited to a ball or dancing party.


Some Suggestions for Gentlemen: A really well-bred man will remember to ask the daughters of a house to dance, as it is his imperative duty to do so; and if the ball has been given for a lady who dances, he should include her in his attentions. If he wishes to be of considered a thorough-bred gentleman, he will sacrifice himself occasionally to those who are unsought and neglected in the dance. The consciousness of having performed a kind and courteous action will be his reward.


Duties of an Escort: A lady’s escort should call for her and accompany her to the place of entertainment; go with her as far as the dressing-room, return to meet her there when she is prepared to go to the ball-room; enter the latter room with her and lead her to the hostess; dance the first dance with her; conduct her to the supper-room, and be ready to accompany her home whenever she wishes to go. He should watch during the evening to see that she is supplied with dancing partners. When he escorts her home she should not invite him to enter the house, and even if she does so, he should by all means decline the invitation. He should call upon her within the next two days.


General Rules for Balls: A young man who can dance, and will not dance, should stay away from a ball.


The lady with whom a gentleman dances last is the one he takes to supper. Therefore he can make no engagement to take out any other, unless his partner is already engaged.


Public balls are most enjoyable when you have your own party. The great charm of a ball is its perfect accord and harmony. All altercations, loud talking and noisy laughter are doubly ill-mannered in a ball-room. Very little suffices to disturb the whole party.


In leaving a ball, it is not deemed necessary to wish the lady of the house a good night. In leaving a small dance or party, it is civil to do so.


The difference between a ball and an evening party is, that at a ball there must be dancing, and at an evening party there may or may not be.  A London authority defines a ball to be “an assemblage for dancing, of not less than seventy-five persons.”


Common civility requires that those who have not been present, but who were among the guests invited, should, when meeting the hostess the first time after an entertainment, make it a point to express some acknowledgement of their appreciation of the invitation, by regretting their inability to be present.


When dancing a round dance, a gentleman should never hold a lady’s hand behind him, or on his hip, or high in the air, moving her arm as though it were a pump handle, as seen in some of our western cities, but should hold it gracefully by his side.


Never forget ball-room engagements, nor confuse them, nor promise two dances to one person. If a lady has forgotten an engagement, the gentleman she has thus slighted must pleasantly accept her apology. Good-breeding and the appearance of good temper are inseparable.


It is not necessary for a gentleman to bow to his partner after a quadrille; it is enough that he offers his arm and walks at least half way round the room with her. He is not obliged to remain beside her unless he wishes to do so, but may leave her with any lady whom she knows.


Never be seen without gloves in a ball-room, or with those of any other color than white, unless they are of the most delicate hue.


Though not customary for a married couple to dance together in society, those men who wish to show their wives the compliment of such unusual attention, if they possess any independence, will not be deterred from doing so by their fear of any comments from Mrs. Grundy.


The sooner that we recover from the effects of the Puritanical idea that clergymen should never be seen at balls, the better for all who attend them. Where it is wrong for a clergyman to go, it is wrong for any member of his church to be seen.


In leaving a ball room before the music has ceased, if no members of the family are in sight, it is not necessary to find them before taking your departure. If, however, the invitation is a first one, endeavor not to make your exit until you have thanked your hostess for the entertainment. You can speak of the pleasure it has afforded you, but it is not necessary that you should say “it has been a grand success.”


Young ladies must be careful how they refuse to dance, for unless a good reason is given, a gentleman is apt to take it as evidence of personal dislike. After a lady refuses, the gentleman should not urge her to dance, nor should the lady accept another invitation for the same dance. The members of the household should see that those guests who wish to dance are provided with partners...Gentlemen should engage their partners for the approaching dance, before the music strikes up.


In a private dance, a lady cannot well refuse to dance with any gentleman who invites her, unless she has a previous engagement. If she declines from weariness, the gentleman will show her a compliment by abstaining from dancing himself, and remaining with her while the dance progresses.


Chapter 30, Dress  (p. 323-324)

Gloves: Gloves are worn by gentlemen as well as ladies in the street, at an evening party, at the opera or theatre, at receptions, at church, when paying a call, riding or driving; but not in the country or at dinner. White should be worn at balls; the palest colors at evening parties and neutral shades at church.


Evening Dress for Gentlemen: The evening or full dress for gentlemen is a black dress-suit – a “swallow-tail” coat, the vest cut low, the cravat white, and kid gloves of the palest hue or white. The shirt front should be white and plain; the studs and cuff-buttons simple…Evening dress is the same for a large dinner party, a ball or an opera.


Chapter 30, Dress  (p. 325-326)

Evening Dress for Ladies: Evening dress for ladies may be as rich, elegant and gay as one chooses to make it. It is everywhere the custom to wear full evening dress in brilliant evening assemblages. It may be cut either high or low at the neck, yet no lady should wear her dress so low as to make it quite noticeable or a special subject of remark. Evening dress is what is commonly known as “full dress,” and will serve for a large evening party, ball or dinner. No directions will be laid down with reference to it, as fashion devises how it is to be made and what material used.


Ball Dress: Ball dressing requires less art than the nice gradations of costume in the dinner dress, and the dress for evening parties. For a ball, everything should be light and diaphanous, somewhat fanciful and airy. The heavy, richly trimmed silk is only appropriate to those who do not dance. The richest velvets, the brightest and most delicate tints in silk, the most expensive laces, elaborate coiffures, a large display of diamonds, artificial flowers for the head-dress and natural flowers for hand bouquets, all belong, more or less, to the costume for a large ball.


(Reprinted by The Lyons Press; 123 West 18 Street; New York, NY 10011; March 2001

www.lyonspress.com ISBN 1-58574-241-4  Etiquette/Reference.)