The London Journal, launched in 1845, was one of the most widely read publications of nineteenth-century Britain. Its weekly appearance ushered in the period when mass-market reading, in a modern sense, was born. Between April 12 and August 30 1845, the Journal carried seventeen articles under the heading “Etiquette for the Millions,” written by G.W.M Reynolds. They were clearly aimed at educating the mass readership (mostly the newly emerging middle-classes) in the behaviour expected of them in public. At times trenchant, the views expressed in the articles describe a view of society that is very, very different from that which we experience today. But, perhaps, one that many sections of modern society hanker after. In this set of instructions we are told who should and should not make morning calls. Not only that, we are told just what we can and cannot say on such occasions. And did you know that a married couple should never call on a single gentleman?
Three or four days after a gentleman has been at a dinner or evening party, he should call at the house where he was entertained. This call should be made between one and four o’clock. It should not last longer than from about a quarter of en hour to twenty minutes.It is not quite correct for the master or mistress of the house to express a hope “that you enjoyed yourself the other night,” because such a remark cannot elicit anything save a compliment; and compliments should never in any case be fished for. If, however, such an observation be made, you will be careful to return an assurance “that you never spent so delightful an evening.” It would be very improper to state that “you did not enjoy yourself because you had a head-ache,” or to mention any drawback to your comfort on the occasion.Never criticise the guests whom you meet at the party in acknowledgement of which your call is made; and should any leading question be put to you on such a subject,-as for instance, “W hat did you think of Mr., or Mrs., or Miss So-and-so?” be sure to answer in a manner that can give no offence and that will admit of your words being repeated without incurring the risk of creating for you enemies of those persons so commented upon.Should another gentleman call at the same time as yourself,, do not offer him your chair: that would be assuming the courtesy of a master is another person’s house. But if’ ladies call, you ma offer one of them your chair.Never take the chair which the mistress of the house is accustomed to occupy, even though she be absent when you call.The custom of commencing a conversation with an observation upon the weather, is so usual amongst Englishmen, that it seems almost to be an anti-national sentiment to recommend a deviation from the course. It is nevertheless advisable to tax the imagination for some more original mode of breaking the ” conversational ice.”At a morning call do not leave your hat in the hall, but carry it with you into the drawing-room or parlour to which you may be shewn. There, either keep it negligently upon your knees, or place it on the carpet close by your chair.Do not take off your left-hand glove.Do not draw your chair too close to the ladies of the house.Do not rise from your chair and proceed to examine any picture, ornament, needle-work, or book, in the room, unless invited to do so by the master or mistress of the house.Never tap on your hat or the table with your fingers during a lapse in the conversation. Indeed, a -well-bred person will never allow any suet) lapse to occur; for the moment he perceives the conversation to be drooping. he will adroitly turn the discourse upon a new topic.It is not usual to offer refreshments to visitors making a morning call; but should such offer be made, it would be consistent with good taste to decline it.When calling at a house, if the inmates be not at home, leave your card.Should the inmates really be at home, and you catch a glimpse of them at the window or through a blind, do not seem to be aware of the fact before the servant; nor allude to it when you next meet the persons themselves. You need not feel offended at their having been denied to you, as domestic avocations frequently necessitate the answer “Not at home.”A gentleman calling at a house where there are grown up sons or daughters, or where visitors with whom he is acquainted, are staying, should leave two cards.A mother and her daughters calling upon ladies, may leave only one card. Should there be ladies staying as visitors at the house where they call, they may either leave two cards, or turn down the corner of one card.Never send cards by your servants, unless it be to answer enquiries made at your house during the illness of one of the inmates.If a gentleman call at the house where the master and mistress have their married sons or daughters staying with them, he should leave two cards, with the names of the married couple written in pencil upon one of them.A single lady or widow should not call upon a single gentleman. ‘When a single lady or widow calls upon a married couple, the visit is to the wife.A single gentleman may call upon unmarried ladies.A married couple should not call upon a single gentleman. The husband must return the gentleman’s call, alone.When you are about to undertake a journey which may entail upon you a long absence from the place where you reside, it is proper to leave cards at the houses of your acquaintances. Those Cards should have, the letters T. T. L. (“To Take leave”), or P. P. C. (“Pour Prendre Conge”-the French phrase) in the corner.G.W.M. Reynolds.
The London Journal,
For the week ending June 21, 1845.