The Modern Lack of Ceremony as Regards Visits - How Not to Decline an Invitation - A
Courteous Invitation and Reply - Some Essential Marks of Politeness
Disraeli, in his " Lothair," wrote of a visit to a country house that " it is a series of meals mitigated by the new dresses of the ladies."
Since his day there have been great changes in country house etiquette. In fact, the very word seems out of place, so free and easy are the manners and customs of this century in its early youth, as compared with those of the mid-victorian period. The youth of both sexes behave with a sans-gene that would horrify their grandmothers, and would also startle their mothers if the latter were not well on the same road themselves.
However, the hostess is still allowed the privilege of inviting such guests as she may wish to have in her house, and she is still permitted to suggest the day when she can receive them, and mention that on which the visit may terminate. To such cool requests as: "Dear Mrs. Dash, - Could you put us up for a couple of nights next week, perhaps the 14th and 15th? It would be so sweet of you! " she can find some excuse for replying in the negative. Such relief is still possible, but whether it will continue to be so for very long is another question. Things are marching at a great rate, and leaving the conventions far behind.
The attitude of too many invited persons is that of conferring a favour by accepting an invitation to stay a week or so at a country house. It peeps out in the tone of the reply: "Thanks so much for your invitation. I am so sorry that I cannot accept it, but I am very busy in getting my new house shipshape. You will excuse me, I know."
These were the exact words of a note of the kind written by a woman of good position. Not a word of thanks, and "excuse" quite in the wrong place. The regrets should have been expressed as though inability to accept the invitation was the writer's loss. The thanks also might have been warmer. But the letter is typical of the bad manners of to-day.
The usual invitation runs as follows:
"My dear Mrs. Whyte, - Can you and Mr. Whyte spare us a few days next month? We should be so pleased if you could come to us on Monday, the 17th, and remain till the 24th. The Hunt Ball comes off on the 19th, and I know you are fond of dancing. Hoping you can come, and with kind regards to you both, believe me, very truly yours, - Constance Greene."
The reply should not be delayed too long. The mistress of a country house has to plan out her relays of guests and fit in her friends so that all those she is anxious to have shall be included. Therefore, a delay in answering is not common politeness.
In sending an acceptance it is usual, and convenient, to mention not only the day of arrival, but also the date of departure, that suggested in the invitation. This prevents any misconception on the point, such as arises occasionally from indistinct writing, the similarity between the figures 3 and 5, 7 and 9, etc.
If a refusal is sent, the regret expressed should be all for oneself, and a good reason should be given. A prior engagement is the usual one. It covers everything, and is therefore adequate. An inadequate excuse is a rudeness. It shows so clearly that the writer is declining for the simple reason that she Would rather stay away, and has trumped up some futile excuse for want of a real one.
In writing to accept any invitation the present tense, not the future, should be used.
It gives me great pleasure to accept," not "It Will give me." Acceptance is done in the present, though the visit itself is in the future. This is very frequently forgotten.
Apropos of the hunt ball, or any other amusement mentioned in an invitation, it would not be very polite to dwell enthusiastically upon one's pleasant anticipation of it. To do so might suggest the idea that the invitation had been accepted rather on account of the ball than for the pleasure of staying with one's host and hostess. This may be quite the state of the case, but good manners forbid it to be allowed to appear. Motors and Chauffeurs
On receiving an acceptance the hostess Writes again, expressing her pleasure at the news that her friends are coming, and giving them information about the trains, saying that the visitors will be met at whatever hour they may decide to arrive at the station. In wealthy circles, where many travel in their own motor, the capacity of the garage is referred to as adequate, or otherwise, to the accommodation of another. For instance:
"I regret to say we shall not be able to put up your car. It is unfortunate, but our garage is limited in size, and the Marshes and Mallows will be here, and theirs quite fill it, added to our own. You can always have one of ours, however."
In addition to valets and lady's-maids, the upper-class hostess is now expected to house chauffeurs as well. Taking everything into consideration, a hostess is rather more like the manageress of a hotel than the owner of a private house during the visiting season. And the behaviour of her guests often goes far to confirm the impression. As often as not they give their address to their acquaintance without taking the trouble to mention the name of their host. Consequently replies arrive without the line "c/o So-and-so," once considered imperatively necessary. It is an unpardonable omission, or would have been considered so not long ago, but it serves to show the trend of things. It is also a stupid omission, especially if the house should happen to be one of several grouped together. The name of the owner on the envelope ensures its punctual delivery. The name of the addressee is probably unknown in the district where he or she is only on a visit. There is a good, solid reason for many of the rules of politeness.