The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
Edited by Charlotte Mason.
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Welcome Guest.
A Chapter on Visiting.
By Mrs. A. Caumont, Author of "The Hanleys," &c..
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 489
"Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest."
In good Parisian society great importance is attached to the paying and receiving of visits; the more so, as it is especially the social element which preponderates in the French character, and which renders delightful that very interchange of courtesies which we, reserved islanders, are too often inclined to regard as mere irksome duties. Compared with other nations, the French are a stay-at-home race. They love their Belle France, and do not willingly leave it. They are attached to their own customs and language, and easily become very homesick in a foreign land. But at home they like locomotion well enough; far from shutting themselves up in their four walls, and boasting that "every Frenchman's house is his castle," they foregather with their friends and neighbours on every possible occasion, and throw wide open their doors of hospitality at all hours of the day.
Visiting is the performance of a duty; and, to become agreeable and easy, it ought to be practised whilst still young. For this reason, the French take their little people with them to call on their acquaintances, and sometimes send them alone to face the ordeal of a formal visit; and, moreover, frequently leave them the entire responsibility of entertaining guests who may arrive at their house -- all, as they designate it, " to prevent our Henri and Josephine from becoming sauvage, which would be dreadful."
A sauvage person is something awful to the polished French mind!
Imagine a young man who cannot be persuaded to enter a drawing-room if there is any one there already, and who flies as precipitately before a bevy of well-dressed ladies as he would from a band of cannibals! Imagine the young maiden who takes five minutes to say "No," and ten minutes to pronounce "Yes, indeed," and who blushes to the roots of her hair if requested to sing or play!
This young man and that young maiden are a couple of sauvage according to the "Dictionary of the French Academy," and any ordinary Parisian parent would be slightly ashamed of them.
Nothing helps to overcome this painful shyness natural to so many boys and girls like seeing fresh faces, and being obliged to hold friendly intercourse with strangers.
The next danger so much dreaded in the juvenile visitor is the corresponding excess of forwardness and familiarity; and it not unfrequently happens that this fault forms but the second phase of the bad breeding of the sauvage children just mentioned -- for what more natural than that they should go from the one extreme to the other?
It is not very pleasant to have half-a-dozen boys or girls in your house for the afternoon who, for the first half-hour, won't look at one another, but stare stolidly at you and then at the carpet, answer you in muttered whispers, and who, by and by, drop their mantle of timidity and become alarmingly boisterous, and end by behaving more indecorously than they would dare to do at home!
Let us take a peep across the Channel, and steal a "wrinkle" from the diary of the Monsieur and Madame who live in a white house with green shutters and two little balconies, out near the Bois de Boulogne. "Husband, I have just received an invitation from Madame Le Brun for this afternoon, and I think of taking the children with me, as my friend mentions that her grand-children arrived last night." "Well, my dear," is the reply, "three little people are a great many -- rather an imposition, indeed. However they know how to behave themselves, and if their school tasks are done I have no objection. I am sure it will give them great pleasure. All the same, it might be well repeat the usual directions to them."
"Oh, of course!" replies Madame. "Come here, Edward!, Madeleine, and Rosa! There is a treat in store for this. But first, remember when you arrive at Madame Le Brun's -- be careful to clean your boots at the door. Take off your hat, Edward, the moment you enter, and stand aside, so as to allow your mother and your sisters to pass in first. Give your right hands, all of you, to the. hostess; look in her face when she speaks to you, and answer distinctly and modestly. Don't finger any of the ornaments in the room, but remember the safe rule, 'Look at everything, touch nothing.' You will meet other children at Madame Le Brun's house. Now, you are to help to amuse them, and endeavour to render your visit a real enjoyment to them as well as to the hostess herself. In short, we are all going to our good friend's this afternoon not merely to divert ourselves, but to afford pleasure to others."
A visit undertaken in this spirit is certain to prove success! In some houses where the children call unattended, the host and hostess unfortunately are not endowed with the tact and common sense of dear Madame Le Brun; and the little people may be subjected to all sorts of indiscreet cross-questionings, such as: "Tell me, Henri, whether do you like your papa or your mamma best? Do you not think it is prettier, Josephine, here than in your own house? Would you like to be my little girl?"
Happily the children have been told categorically by their real mamma, that they are to speak very little in this company; that the lady of the house is not much accustomed to children and probably takes them for much younger than they actually are. They must be patient and polite with her, however, and to any embarrassing questions, they may return some such simple reply as: "We really couldn't say," or "I am sure I don't know."
It is much to be regretted that at the present day the works of fiction printed in Paris, and spread so much abroad, should be precisely those specimens of literature that convey miserable ideas of French home-life. The foreigner who would judge of everyday existence in France must not base his notions on the descriptions he finds in the most popular library novels. To appreciate the true sterling qualities of the French, he must go and live among them for awhile as their guest.
Then his heart will be touched by a hundred little domestic episodes; none, of course, interesting enough to grace the page of the sensational novel, yet all so many proofs of staunch friendship and delicate good-breeding. For above all things the Frenchman shines as host in his own house. He understands how to put his visitors, old and young, at their ease. He opens not only his whole house, but his whole heart to them, and takes a naive innocent pleasure in their enjoyment. The fact of the stranger being under his roof, whether by his own invitation, his wife's, or by one of the children's, places the former, so to speak in his power, either to insult or to protect. He feels that he has an advantage over the sojourner; he is at home, the other is not. True chivalry prompts kindness and devotion, and our gallant French house-father is glad to exercise the hospitality so natural to his disposition.
His children very soon acquire the same happy art of entertaining all the household guests, irrespective of age or endospore. Little Paul will stop building his brick palace, if he sees that old lady yonder alone in the parlour. He does not know her at all, but he comprehends that she is some friend of papa's or mamma's; so, instead of vanishing before her gaze, he bethinks himself of how he is to entertain her until some of the grown-up folk arrive, He is not sure as to whether she is a married lady or not; so, after a moment's reflection he addresses her as "Madame," on account of the quaint French rule he has learnt, which declares this form to be the more polite in case of doubt.
Some day, when Paul has grown older, and has become a collégien, or pupil of one of the public schools, his parents will give him the permission to invite one of his young companions home to spend a Thursday at their house -- for the schools in Paris all close on Thursday as well as on Sunday. They do not inquire beforehand which is the cleverest lad in the class, or the one whose relations arc the most influential, or for the handsomest youth to cut a good figure in the Jardin des Plantes with their own boy, and reflect credit on their party. They are more noble-minded than all that; and their object is an honourable one, although two-fold, namely, to train their own child, and confer kindness on another's. The lad they invite will probably be some lonely-hearted little orphan. And Paul's father arranges the entire programme for the young stranger's visit. A portion of his own valuable time he will snatch from his business in order to devote himself to the lad's entertainment. He is not satisfied, as some easy-going, middle-aged gentlemen might be in such a case to leave them to the mercy of the groom, who would relish nothing, better than to initiate the little masters into the mysteries of puppy-rearing, ferreting, and the bartering of fan-tailed pigeons. Oh, no, Paul's father will treat Paul's friend precisely as he should wish another boy's father to treat his Paul. He will not spoil him, but he will be kind to him.
That discretion and delicacy of feeling which is necessary in a good host and hostess, is quite as indispensable for the caller at other people's houses. In order to be always a welcome visitor, beware of yielding to the vulgar faults of inquisitiveness, ostentation, and garrulousness.
Mrs. Askwell is a first-rate manager in her own house; she is clever and amusing, and has a large circle of acquaintances. Yet they are all a little afraid of her on account of one peculiarity which she has had since she was a very little girl at school. When she pays a visit at her friend's house, she commences by "picking" the servants and cross-questioning the children. You see, when Mrs. Askwell was a child she used to touch and finger everything she could lay her little hands upon -- especially at children's parties; and her two old aunts, who brought her up, thought her a prodigy of intelligence because she startled all the other old ladies with her precocious questions.
Ostentation is another species of impoliteness which may mar a visit. In grown-up people it generally takes the form of fussiness and patronising condescension, whilst in children it is apt to show itself in vulgar bragging and boasting. It was our lot one day to receive the visits of three members of one family consecutively. First the mother called; and, after she had left, her eldest daughter; and, finally, the youngest child came over for something her mother had forgotten. "Oh dear! quite a nice little place you have here, not nearly so stuffy as I expected to find it! It is quite refreshing here after all these grand houses one sees now-a-days!" These were the first words of Mrs. X. when she entered our parlour, and some friends who were present thought her a very refreshing kind of person as she uttered them. Half-an-hour later Miss X. called. She cast her eyes superciliously round the room, and bowed in a ludicrously pompous manner to each person to whom she was introduced. Poising her cup of tea in her hand with the gravity of a doge, she spoke very little. At last she drawled forth in bored accents, "I came over, you know, on account of etiquette, and because mother said it was the right thing to do. But, fact is, I have awfully little time for visiting, except in our own set." As a final test to our good nature, we were favoured by the presence of little Mabel X. about an hour later on in the day -- "Mother forgot her parasol, and I thought it couldn't matter much, she has such a lot! She gets a new one every day, one to match each of her gowns. I can tell you my mamma has heaps of new clothes in her wardrobe, and so has sister. And I am to have just what I like when I go up to town with papa next month. Of course, my Papa can afford all that, and a great This child has the unmistakable symptoms," observed an oreat deal more!"
"This child has the unmistakable symptoms," obsered an old gentleman in the corner, "and if nobody rescues her, she must inevitably pass through all the stages, till she has become as incurable as poor Mrs. X. herself." . . .
Idle talking for talk's sake, and only as a means of whiling away the time, is a habit which causes good healthy visiting to degenerate into boredom, and sometimes into petty fibbing and scandal-mongering. The garrulous old lady who "holds forth" for an hour and a-half about her doctor and her domestics; the prosy old gentleman who tells you the same anecdote over and over again, may be forgiven; but those chatterboxes, who regularly regale their audiences with exaggerated accounts of their neighbours' frailties, are a harmful class of visitors, and very undeserving the welcome they too often receive.
It is difficult to estimate how early in life such pernicious habits may be contracted.
A group of ladies were once gathered underneath the hotel verandah in a fashionable Southern watering-place. One had a novel lying open on her lap; another, a piece of embroidery; a third with her jewelled hand stroked a lazy little lap-dog. All were reposing on their rustic seats in various attitudes of elegant indolence; whilst, standing in their midst, like some tiny Cupid among the Graces, was a curly-headed blue-eyed youngster of four, in a superb little sailor costume. His bright eyes dancing, his sturdy legs planted wide apart, and his hands plunged into his pockets, after the manner of Little Lord Fauntleroy, our Jack Tar kept the ladies in fits of laughter, describing the deeds of prowess he used to accomplish when, like Jack Absolute, he was "at home." The precocious language of the little fellow, combined with his baby-lisp and cherub aspect, was irresistibly comical; and the more wonderful his statements became -- the improbably rapidly merging into the region of the impossible -- the longer and louder the ladies laughed.
Who knows how Master Jack might have ended -- doubtless developed into a common cock-and-bull story-teller -- had not his good papa arrived home from India just in time to put a peremptory stop to all séances of this sort.
So much for the three snares we have hinted at, inquisitiveness ostentation, and talkativeness, which threaten to prejudice some people's minds against visiting in general.
It is pleasanter, however, to regard the custom of visiting from its favourable aspect, as a necessary item for the development of humanity; beginning with its most primitive phase, here the savage chief makes an overture of peace to the head of some neighbourhood tribe, and ending in the most civilised countries, where the most refined classes are distinguished by their rivalry in exquisite courtesies to one another.
And if we search our Bible through, from the page that tells how the Patriarch of old received "Angels unawares," down to the chapter of St. James, which contains such pithy directions; to genuine hospitality and true politeness, we shall see visiting referred to as a serious duty.
How well I remember being present once in a house in the neighbourhood of Paris when the bully, etiquette, was himself seized by the shoulders and shown the way to the hall-door!
We were seated in groups round the drawing-room, awaiting the summons of the dinner-gong. Suddenly the host exclaimed "Ah, that is true, our cousin Alphonse was to arrive today from Lyons, and we may be favoured with the pleasure of his company. He promised, if possible, to spend the evening with us."
Scarcely were the words pronounced than the, servant opened the door and announced "Monsieur Alphonse." Great greeetings and questionings ensued, and the stranger, who appeared to be somewhat fatigued, was speedily ensconced in one of the softly-cushioned lounges. His countenance fell most imperceptibly as he seemed to become gradually aware at he was not the only guest, and that, moreover, the ladies were in evening toilets, and all the gentlemen -- except himself -- attired in dinner dress-suits.
In the meantime our kind little house-faher had vanished, nobody knew where; but only to reappear very quickly attired in a morning coat, with light grey trousers similar those the new comer wore.
"See now, cousin," he whispered, slapping his knee with boyish good nature, "this is just to keep you company." From that moment the guest was thoroughly at his ease; this graceful, delicate act of kindness acted on his nerves, and revived his spirits after the long journey better than all th easy-chairs in the room, and better than the exquisitely-cooked dinner that followed. Monsieur Alphonse chatted away, and laughed, and recounted the most charming anecdotes to his partners right and left at table, attired in their faultless gala finery. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and made all others enjoy themselves, simply because within him a certain unseen heart-spring had been moved by this original touch of his friend's hospitality. . . . The quality which makes an excellent host, and also a good guest, is nothing else than one of the three Christian graces -- brotherly love -- that charity so beautifully described on the sacred page, as "seeking not her own, nor being puffed up." It must exist in the heart of both guest and host.
"Your child," remarked a lady, who, with her little ones, was enjoying a very happy holiday at her old school-fellow's country house, "your child has decidedly inherited the art of entertaining her friends. I never beheld such a perfect little hostess."
"Ah," was the rejoinder, "but that is because your children possess the talent of being good guests. I must say, I never met with young people so easy to amuse."
But it was neither a carefully-studied art, nor yet any inherited talent, which made that visit so very delightful "all round," as the Americans say. The real cause was that both hosts and guests, young and old, had come together that day each with the firm resolution to give pleasure, not to snatch it -- to think of other people's enjoyment before that of self!
Typed by happi, January 2016