|Early 1870s fashion|
Mid-Victorian MannersIn 1872 Etiquette of Good Society was informing its readers that good manners were an essential part of ‘a pleasant and agreeable member of society’. Learning, having a good character or any manner of accomplishments were not sufficient. In 1903 the mantra was unchanged and the book still proclaimed that;
‘A true lady will be quite natural and easy in her manners, and this will have the effect of putting those at their ease who are in her company, whatever their station in life.’[i]Although we must suppose that the lady would not be allowing her servants their ease until their daily 10 or 12 hour toil was completed.
The Etiquette informs us in the introduction that the manners of previous generations did not measure up to the standards of today and foreigners too did not make the grade. Were these codified manners the result of a need to put lesser mortals in their place? The 1872 codex of formality was an addition to the unwritten informalities of Georgian society. In Victorian times far more people aspired to the gentilities of the rich and aristocratic.By 1893 things were not much changed and the February edition of the Lady stated
‘It is a good thing for everyone that there are rules by which Society…..is held together and enable to work smoothly and easily.’[ii]Fin de Siècle Uncertainty
|Lady Colin Campbell|
Lady Colin Campbell[iii] became editor of the Etiquette of Good Society and revised it in August 1880, some years before her 1886 lurid trial for a divorce from her husband, Lord Colin Campbell a son of the Duke of Argyll. Lady Colin failed to follow the need for discretion as both she and her husband were reputed to have had several lovers[iv].Nearly 100,000 copies of the guide to manners had been sold and it was not alone; a rival publication, Manners for Men, was first published in 1897 and there was a companion volume for women. The fast increasing middle class brought uncertainty to its newer members and these guides were a way to negotiate the shibboleths laid down by those who had always belonged.
The question of who to know was almost as complex as who not to know; and naturally these dilemmas found their way into fiction;
‘He did not know enough of Tom’s people, while to have the acquaintance of the right people and of no one else was part of his creed…….these people, of whom he knew nothing, might not be the right people.’[v]
Meeting the Right People
Even more complex was the art of visiting; visits were to be paid on occasions requiring congratulations, commiseration, courtesy calls and then general calls. And then there was the vexed question of leaving cards and who left them and whose were left and where they were left and how they were left. A card leaving was to be returned within the week; a lady would sit outside in her carriage while her footman left the appropriate number of cards.Most upper and middle class Victorian women were acutely conscious of the number of cards left on the tray in the hall. A decrease in their number could be attributable to rumour and a woman’s sexual virtue was an imperative. A woman like Lady Colin Campbell would not have been received in the best society due to her sexual misdeeds[vi].
A follow on from the art of leaving a card was the formal call, to last no more than 15 minutes. It was the precursor to a return call from a prospective acquaintance. Only then could an invitation to visit be proffered. These obligations were of course for ladies only;
‘Men, as a rule, do not pay these visits of ceremony; and it would appear that they have always shirked their duties in this respect.’[vii]advises the Etiquette of Good Society. Meeting the right people was essential for a mother with daughters to marry off; easier if you were one of the Upper Ten Thousand as the aristocracy were called. And for a woman almost any man was better than the prospect of being a spinster at the elderly age of thirty.
The etiquette manuals advised on matters great and small; a publication like the Etiquette of Good Society advised not only on how to behave, but also how to organise events like balls, marriages, christenings and funerals. The book, with an eye to a monied audience, advises that weddings should preferably be held in the country in the summer;
‘We advise them to decide, if possible, upon summer as the season, and the country as the place. Winter weddings and those in town are alike profoundly dispiriting.’[viii]All the celebratory events had their own rules as did having guests to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even supper,
‘Supper tables can be made to look nice and tempting enough by the bestowal of a little care and ingenuity upon them. The garnishing of dishes adds greatly to the general appearance of the table.’[ix]
We are informed that leftovers can be swiftly turned into hot savoury dishes for an informal supper; the remaining pieces of chicken can be fricasseed while the rabbit leftovers can be turned into a curry, oysters can be scalloped and an omelette cooked. These dishes are to be followed by tarts and cakes and other dainties.The ordering of balls, garden parties, field sports, excursions, picnics and even private theatricals are detailed for those who were not brought up to manage such affairs. New money meant that penniless aristocrats might marry American railroad heiresses.
And while a girl like Consuelo Vanderbilt might have been schooled in etiquette, ready for her marriage to an English aristocrat, even she might be afraid of committing a faux-pas in highly critical aristocratic circles. But many of the Dollar Princesses did not possess the social acumen required.
The Etiquette of Good Society even has a chapter on attending court; a pleasure surely denied all but the most august of its readers.
‘Any lady who proposes to be presented must leave at the Lord Chamberlain’s office……two clear days previous to that on which the Drawing Room is held, a card with her name written theron, and one with the name of the lady by whom she is to be presented.’[x]
For the upwardly mobile male desirous of avoiding social pitfalls there was Manners for Men, which included advice on etiquette while driving;
‘A gentleman driving a mail phaeton in the park with a lady by his side must, of course, acknowledge all salutes by raising his hat, if he is sufficiently expert to admit of his doing so without risk. It is not everyone who can emulate the Prince of Wales, who, when driving a coach, can take a cigar from his lips and raise his hat with the whip hand.’[xi]
The book’s more laid back approach is in contrast to the formality of the Etiquette of Good Society and includes expectations in regard to smoking;
‘It is now no uncommon thing to see a man in evening dress smoking in a brougham with a lady……This is going rather far, for a woman’s evening dress…..become as much impregnated with the odour of tobacco as if she had herself been smoking.’[xii]
And Manners for Men even has a chapter on using the omnibus, a method of transportation resolutely ignored by Etiquette of Good Society.
The Important Matter of Dress
|Mrs Hugh Hammersley 1892|
Not only what one did but also the way one dressed was a minefield;
‘There is no easier method by which to detect the real lady from the sham one than by noticing her style of dress. Vulgarity is readily distinguished……..by the breach of certain rules of harmony and fitness.’[xiii]
The lady desirous of producing a good impression would spend a lot of her time dressing in the appropriate garb;
‘The costume for paying calls when on foot differs from that which should be worn when driving in a carriage……It may be light or dark, according to the season; but it must not be gay………..Carriage dress has much more licence. Handsome costumes, made of rich silken materials…..are suitable when driving.’[xiv]
As a finale to its chapter on dress Manners for Men concludes;
‘”What all men should avoid is the ‘shabby genteel.’ No man ever gets over it…..You had better be in rags.”’[xv]
|John Singer Sargent|
The books advise not only on what it is appropriate to wear at what venue (the Etiquette of Good Society going so far as to advise its readers as to the wedding attire of Richard Coeur de Lion)[xvi], but also what it should be made of;
‘For sea-side and country use, a complete suit of dark-blue serge or mixed tweed is found the most suitable wear.’[xvii]
Desperate to conform, how many people overspent their income enabling them to be seen as the right sort?
Etiquette of Good Society – Lady Colin Campbell (Ed), Cassell & Company Ltd 1903
The English Illustrated Magazine, Macmillan & Co 1884Love and Marriage in the Great Country Houses – Adeline Hartcup, Sidgewick & Jackson 1984
Manners for Men – Mrs Humphry, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Ltd 1979Victorian High Society – Stella Margetson, BT Batsford Ltd 1980
The Social Calendar – Anna Sproule, Blandford Press 1978www.wikipedia.en
[i] Etiquette of Good Society - Campbell
[ii] The Social Calendar - Sproule
[iv] Lord Colin contracted syphilis and passed it on to his wife
[v] The Story of a Courtship – Weyman, from the English Illustrated Magazine
[vi] This did not of course apply to men
[vii] Etiquette of Good Society - Campbell
[viii] Etiquette of Good Society - Campbell
[xi] Manners for Men – Mrs Humphry
[xiii] Etiquette of Good Society - Campbell
[xv] Manners for Men – Mrs Humphry
[xvi] Allegedly a rose coloured silk tunic with a silver cloak and a rose coloured bonnet embroidered with gold
[xvii] Etiquette of Good Society - Campbell