Gilded Age Etiquette
Evening parties are of various kinds, and more or less ceremonious, as they are more or less fashionable. Their object is or should be social enjoyment, and the manners of the company ought to be such as will best promote it. A few hints, therefore, in addition to the general maxims of good behavior already laid down, will suffice.
Having accepted an invitation to a party, never fail to keep your promise, and especially do not allow bad weather, of any ordinary character, to prevent your attendance. A married man should never accept an invitation from a lady in which his wife is not included.
When you enter a drawing-room where there is a party, you salute the lady of the house before speaking to any one else. Even your most intimate friends are enveloped in an opake (sic) atmosphere until you have made your bow to your entertainer. You then mix with the company, salute your acquaintances, and join in the conversation. You may converse freely with any person you meet on such an occasion, without the formality of an introduction.
When conversation is not general, nor the subject sufficiently interesting to occupy the whole company, they break up into different groups. Each one converses with one or more of his neighbors on his right and left. We should, if we wish to speak to any one, avoid leaning upon the person who happens to be between. A gentleman ought not to lean upon the arm of a lady's chair, but he may, if standing, support himself by the back of it, in order to converse with the lady partly turned toward him. The members of an invited family should never be seen conversing one with another at a party.
4. French Leave
If you desire to withdraw before the party breaks up, take "French leave"—that is, go quietly out without disturbing any one, and without saluting even the mistress of the house, unless you can do so without attracting attention. The contrary course would interrupt the rest of the company, and call for otherwise unnecessary explanations and ceremony.
5. Sports and Games
Among young people, and particularly in the country, a variety of sports or plays, as they are called, are in vogue. Some of them are fitting only for children; but others are more intellectual, and may be made sources of improvement as well as of amusement. Entering into the spirit of these sports, we throw off some of the restraints of a more formal intercourse; but they furnish no excuse for rudeness. You must not forget your politeness in your hilarity, or allow yourself to "take liberties," or lose your sense of delicacy and propriety.
The selection of the games or sports belongs to the ladies, though any person may modestly propose any amusement, and ask the opinion of others in reference to it. The person who gives the party will exercise her prerogative to vary the play, that the interest may be kept up. If this were the proper place, we should enter an earnest protest against the promiscuous kissing which sometimes forms part of the performances in some of these games, but it is not our office to proscribe or introduce observances, but to regulate them.
No true gentleman will abuse the freedom which the laws of the game allows; but if required, will delicately kiss the hand, the forehead, or, at most, the cheek of the lady. A lady will offer her lips to be kissed only to a lover or a husband, and not to him in company. The French code is a good one: "Give your hand to a gentleman to kiss, your cheek to a friend, but keep your lips for your lover." Never prescribe any forfeiture which can wound the feelings of any of the company, and "pay" those which may be adjudged to you with cheerful promptness. – From 1887, Samuel Well's,"How to Behave"