“True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite.”

“If you wish to be a well-bred lady, you must carry your good manners everywhere with you. It is not a thing that can be laid aside. True politeness is uniform disinterestedness trifles, accompanied by the calm self-possession which belongs to a noble simplicity of purpose; and this must be the effect of a Christian spirit running through all you do, or say, or think; and, unless you cultivate it and exercise it, upon all occasions and towards all persons, it will never be a part of yourself.”

The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness

Author: Florence Hartley Published: 1860


Chapter I.


Chapter II.


Chapter III.


Chapter IV.

How to Behave at a Hotel

Chapter V.

EVENING Parties--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter VI.

EVENING Parties--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter VII.

Visiting--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter VIII.

Visiting--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter IX.

MORNING RECEPTIONS OR Calls--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter X.

MORNING RECEPTIONS OR Calls--etiquette for the Caller

Chapter XI.

DINNER Company--etiquette for the Hostess

Chapter XII.

DINNER Company--etiquette for the Guest

Chapter XIII.

Table Etiquette

Chapter XIV.

Conduct in the Street

Chapter XV.

Letter Writing

Chapter XVI.

Polite Deportment and Good Habits

Chapter XVII.

Conduct in Church

Chapter XVIII.

BALL ROOM Etiquette--for the Hostess

Chapter XIX.

BALL ROOM Etiquette--for the Guest

Chapter XX.

Places of Amusement

Chapter XXI.


Chapter XXII.


Chapter XXIII.

On a Young Lady's Conduct When Contemplating Marriage

Chapter XXIV.

Bridal Etiquette

Chapter XXV.

Hints on Health

Chapter XXVI.



For the Complexion




In issuing invitations for a large dinner party, the usual form is--

Mr. and Mrs. G---- request the favor of Mr. and Mrs. L----'s company to dinner, on Wednesday, March 8th, at ---- o'clock.

If your husband is giving a party to gentlemen only, he will have a card printed or written for the occasion, but your duties as hostess, if he wishes you to preside, will still be as arduous as if your own friends were included in the invitation.

The directions given in the chapter on "Evening parties" for the arrangement of the parlor and the dressing-rooms, will apply here equally well, but the dining-room (in this case the centre of attraction) requires still more careful attention. Any fault here will mar your own comfort and the pleasure of your guests, and must be carefully avoided.

Send out your invitations by a servant, or man hired for the purpose; do not trust them to despatch or penny post.

Be careful in selecting the guests for a dinner party. Remember that conversation will be the sole entertainment for several hours, and if your guests are not well chosen, your dinner, no matter how perfect or costly the viands, will prove a failure. The most agreeable dinners are those whose numbers will allow all the guests to join in a common conversation, and where the host has spirit and intelligence to take the lead, and start a new subject when the interest in the old one begins to flag. Dinners where the guests depend entirely upon the person next them for conversation, are apt to be stupid, as it requires marvelous tact to pair off all the couples, so that every one will be entertaining in tete-a-tete conversation.

To give a good dinner, your means, room, and establishment must all be taken into consideration when you are preparing for a dinner company. If you invite a large number, you must increase your establishment for the occasion, as to sit down to a dinner badly served, with a scarcity of waiters, is tiresome, and shows little tact or grace on the part of the hostess.

One cook cannot prepare dinner properly for more than ten persons, and three waiters will find ample employment in waiting upon the same number. More than this number will require a table too large for general, easy conversation, and throw your company into couples or trios, for entertainment.

Have your table spread in a room that will accommodate all the guests comfortably, at the same time avoid putting a small social party in a large room, where they will appear lost in the space around them. Let the room be comfortably warmed, and if your dinner is late, have the apartments well lighted. If you sit down by daylight, but will remain in the room until after dark, have the shutters closed and the lights lit, before the dinner is announced, as nothing can be more awkward than to do this in the middle of the meal.

The shape of a table is a point of more importance than some people think. If you wish your dinner to be social--not a mere collection of tete-a-tetes--the table should be of a shape which will make it easy for each guest to address any one at the table. The long parallelogram, with the host at one end and the hostess at the other, is stiff, too broad, too long, and isolates the givers of the feast from the guests.

The round table, if large enough to accommodate many guests, has too large a diameter each way for easy conversation. The best table is the oval, and the host and hostess should sit in the middle of each side, facing each other.

The dining room, even in the heat of summer, should be carpeted, to deaden the noise of the servants' feet. The chairs should be easy, without arms, and with tall, slanting backs. It adds much to the comfort, if each person is provided with a foot-stool.

You must have, besides the waiters, one servant to carve, and he must be an adept. No dish should be carved upon the table, and that no guest shall wait too long for his meat, you must engage a rapid and dexterous carver.

For a party of ten, two waiters, and the carver, are amply sufficient. If you have too many servants, they will only interfere with each other, and stand staring at the guests. Give your orders before dinner, and through the meal never speak to the servants. Your whole attention must be given to the guests. Even if you see that matters are going wrong, do not let your annoyance appear, but gracefully ignore the painful facts. Let each servant have his regular position at the table. One should take the guests at the right of the hostess, and the left of the host; the other the guests on the other side. They should wear light, noiseless shoes, and white gloves, and each one carry a folded napkin over his right arm.

The main point in the arrangement of the table itself, is to secure beauty, without interfering with conversation. The table cover and napkins must be of snowy damask, the glass clear as crystal, and taste must preside over each detail. Let nothing high be placed on the table, that will effectually separate the guests from each other. There should be, first, a handsome centre piece, and this may be of glass, silver, or china, and not too high or large, and must be elegant as a work of art, or it is better omitted altogether. Preserve or fruit stands, tastefully decorated, with the fruit on fresh, green leaves, and flowers mingled with them, form exquisite centre pieces. A pyramid of flowers, or tasty vase or basket, forms, too, a beautiful ornament for the centre of the table. In addition to this, the French scatter vases of flowers all over the table, at the corners and in the centre. Some place a small, fragrant bouquet before the plate of each guest. Nothing can be more beautiful than this arrangement. Glasses of celery, dishes of clear, transparent jellies or preserves, exquisite little glass plates of pickles should stand in order on the table.

Place before each guest, the plate, knife, fork, spoon, four wine-glasses of various sizes, the goblet for water, napkin, small salt cellar, salt spoon, and roll of bread. Place none of the meats or vegetables upon the large table. These should all be served at a side-table, each guest selecting his own, to be handed by the servants. The first course is soup. As this is not meant to destroy the appetite for other viands, it should be light, not too rich or thick. Let the servant hand one ladlefull to each person. If you have more than one kind, he must first inquire which each guest prefers.

If you have wines, let them be handed round after the soup.

Next comes the fish. If you have large fish, let a slice, cut smoothly, not made into a hash by awkward carving, be placed upon the plate of the guest, with a slice of egg, and drawn butter. If the fish are small, one should be placed upon each plate.

Then come the patties of oysters, minced veal, or lobster; or, instead of these, you may have poultry or game.

Next the roast. With the meats have vegetables served on a separate plate, that the guest may take as much as he wishes with meat. You will, of course, have a variety of vegetables, but scarcely any guest will choose more than two.

The pastry and puddings come next in order, and these, too, are better served from a side table. Between the pastry and the dessert, have salad and cheese placed before each guest.

If you eat dessert in the same room that you dine in, it should be placed upon the table (with the exception of the ices) before the guests are seated, and this comes after the pastry has been discussed. It should consist of fruit and ices.

A pleasanter and more elegant way, is to have the fruit and ices spread in a separate room, and leave the dining room after the pastry has been eaten. The change of position, the absence of the meat flavor in the atmosphere, make the dessert much more delightful than if it is eaten in the same room as the dinner. In summer especially, the change to a cool, fresh room, where the ices and fruits are tastefully spread, and flowers are scattered profusely about the room, delights every sense.

Coffee follows the dessert, and when this enters, if your guests are gentlemen only, your duty is at an end. You may then rise, leave the room, and need not re-appear. If you have lady guests, you give the signal for rising after coffee, and lead the way to the parlor, where, in a few moments, the gentlemen will again join you.

Suppose your guests invited, servants instructed, every arrangement made, and the important day arrived. The next point to consider is the reception of your guests. Be dressed in good season, as many seem to consider an invitation to dinner as one to pass the day, and come early. Take a position in your drawing-room, where each guest will find you easily, and remain near it, until every guest has arrived. As each one enters, advance to meet him, and extend your hand.

Have plenty of chairs ready in the drawing-room, as an invitation to dinner by no means argues a "stand up" party. As you have already arranged every detail, your duty as hostess consists in receiving your guests gracefully, conversing and looking as charmingly as possible. Flowers in the drawing-room are as great a proof of taste as in the dining room.

As the time just before dinner is very apt to be tiresome, you should bring forward all the armor against stupidity that you possess. Display upon tables arranged conveniently about the room, curiosities, handsome books, photographs, engravings, stereoscopes, medallions, any works of art you may own, and have the ottomans, sofas, and chairs so placed that your guests can move easily about the room, or rooms.

The severest test of good breeding in a lady, is in the position of hostess, receiving dinner guests. Your guests may arrive all at once, yet you must make each one feel that he or she is the object of your individual attention, and none must be hurt by neglect. They may arrive very early, yet your duty is to make the time fly until dinner is announced. They may come late, and risk the ruin of your choicest dishes, yet you must not, upon pain of a breach of etiquette, show the least annoyance. If you know that the whole kitchen is in arms at the delay, you must conceal the anguish, as the Spartan boy did his pangs, to turn a cheerful, smiling face upon the tardy guests.

When dinner is announced, you will lead the way to the dining-room upon the arm of one of your gentlemen guests, having paired off the company in couples. The host comes in last with a lady upon his arm.

You may indicate to each couple, as they enter the dining-room, the seats they are to occupy, standing until all are seated, or you may allow them to choose their own places. The English fashion of placing a card upon each plate with the name of the person to take that seat upon it, is a good one. It enables the hostess to place those whom she is certain will be mutually entertaining, next each other. Place the gentleman who escorts you from the parlor at your right hand.

Having once taken your seat at table, you have nothing to do with the dinner but to partake of it. Not a word, or even a glance, will a well-bred hostess bestow upon the servants, nor will she speak to the guests of the dishes. Their choice rests between themselves and the waiters, and you must take no notice of what they eat, how much, or how little. Nay, should they partake of one dish only, you must ignore the fact.

The greatest tact is displayed where the hostess makes each guest feel perfectly at ease. She will aid her husband both in leading and supporting the conversation, and will see that no guest is left in silence from want of attention. Whilst she ignores every breach of etiquette her guests may commit, she must carefully observe every rule herself, and this she must do in an easy, natural manner, avoiding every appearance of restraint. Her deportment, she may be sure, is secretly watched and criticised by each guest, yet she must appear utterly unconscious that she is occupying any conspicuous position.

To watch the servants, or appear uneasy, lest something should go wrong, is excessively ill-bred, and if any accident does occur, you only make it worse by noticing it. To reprove or speak sharply to a servant before your guests, manifests a shocking want of good breeding.

The rules given above are only applicable to large dinner parties, and where the guests are few, and the host himself carves, these rules will not apply. In this case, as you will only require the services of your own household domestics, you must, of course, attend personally to the wants of your guests.

Dinner not being served from a side table, you must, while putting tasteful ornaments upon it, be careful not to crowd them, and leave room for the substantial dishes.

You must watch the plate of each guest, to see that it is well provided, and you will invite each one to partake of the various dishes.

Have a servant to pass the plates from you to each guest, and from the host to you, after he has put the meat upon them, that you may add gravy and vegetables before they are set before your visitors.

At these smaller dinner companies, avoid apologizing for anything, either in the viands or the arrangement of them. You have provided the best your purse will allow, prepared as faultlessly as possible; you will only gain credit for mock modesty if you apologize for a well-prepared, well-spread dinner, and if there are faults they will only be made more conspicuous if attention is drawn to them by an apology.

Ease of manner, quiet dignity, cheerful, intelligent conversation, and gentle, lady-like deportment, never appear more charming than when they adorn a lady at the head of her own table.

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