This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
If it happens to be stormy on the evening of your party, an awning erected from the carriage-landing to the house, or a large umbrella carried by a servant, will be a kind provision for the comfort of the guests as they alight from their carriages.
Suppers have wisely been dispensed with of late years at the ordinary evening party. To furnish a full, late supper is a piece of folly for various reasons; among them being the fact that it is positively injurious to the health of the company to eat it. The majority of the party, in all probability, do not desire it; and consequently it is time, labor and expense, upon the part of the hostess, worse than thrown away. She should have all of her time to devote to her company; to do which, she can provide only light refreshments, which may be passed around.
Among the methods of entertainment resorted to, aside from conversation and dancing, may be those of a literary character. Thus a debatable question may be propounded, a presiding officer selected, assisted by two, four or six others, two leading disputants appointed, debaters chosen upon each side, and the speakers given each two, three or five minutes to talk; the president and board of arbitration to decide the question according to the weight of argument. This is a pleasant and profitable way of spending the evening, if all can be enlisted and be interested in listening or have something to say.
Another intellectual and pleasant mode of spending an evening is for each member of the company to read or recite something that shall interest, amuse, instruct and entertain the audience. To do this rightly, some one should be appointed to act as master of ceremonies for the evening, being assisted by two or three others, who will make suggestions. It will be the duty of the presiding officer, at these parlor recitations, to ascertain in the beginning what each one will recite, make out a programme, and then announce the various readers and speakers of the evening, as they come in turn, having the exercises suitably interspersed with music. The pleasure of the occasion will much depend upon having every piece upon the programme short, and clearly announced by the presiding officer.
Parlor-theatricals and parlor-concerts are a pleasant means of entertaining an evening gathering - a company of six, eight, or more, thoroughly mastering a play and giving it to an audience that may assemble in the parlors. To have an entertainment of this kind pass smoothly through, some competent person must take upon himself or herself the duties of manager. Each player should be consulted before parts are assigned, and it is of the utmost importance that the players be each prompt in rendering their parts. It is the province of the hostess to act the part of stage-manager, unless she appoints some one from the audience to conduct the exercises.
Croquet parties are very fashionable, and are a healthful, pleasant means of diversion. The essentials necessary to make the game pleasant are good grounds that can be shaded, and clean, comfortable, cool seats. A table may be set in the shade, and refreshments served thereon; or they may be passed to the guests as they sit in their seats.
On all occasions when a number of people convene together, whether indoors or out, the laws of courtesy should be obeyed. It is the duty of the gentlemen to be ever attentive to the ladies. If it be a picnic, the gentlemen will carry the luncheon, erect the swings, construct the tables, bring the water, provide the fuel for boiling the tea, etc. On the fishing excursion they will furnish the tackle, bait the hooks, row the boats, carry the fish, and furnish comfortable seats for the ladies. In gathering nuts, they will climb the trees, do the shaking, carry the nuts, and assist the ladies across the streams and over the fences. If possible, in crossing the fields, go through the bars or gateway, and avoid the necessity of compelling the ladies to clamber over the fences. Should it be necessary to climb them, it is etiquette for the gentleman to go over first, and when the lady is firmly on the top, he will gently help her down.
It should ever be the rule, with both ladies and gentlemen, upon all such occasions, to render every assistance possible to entertain the company. Self should be forgotten. More or less assistance is all the time required by the managers of the outdoor gatherings, and labor is continually necessary to make the occasion pleasant. To aid in rendering the affair agreeable by needed assistance will very likely give you more pleasure than to be entertained yourself.