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Vitamin Q: the book!

~ Monday, August 02, 2004

Some more information on parties of the past. These are the proposed rules for ‘family circles’, social gatherings held in Victorian London.

“They manage it better in France,” is a remark to be often applied with reference to social life in England, and the writer fancies that the prevalence here of a few bad customs, easily changed, causes the disadvantageous difference between ourselves and our more courteous and agreeable neighbours.

i. Worldly appearance; the phantom leading many to suppose that wealth is the standard of worth - in the minds of friends, a notion degrading to both parties.
ii. Overdress; causing unnecessary expense and waste of time.
iii. Expensive entertainments, as regards refreshments.
iv. Late hours.

The following brief rules are suggested, in a hope to show the way to a more constant, easy, and friendly intercourse amongst friends, the writer feeling convinced that society is equally beneficial and requisite - in fact, that mankind in seclusion, like the sword in the scabbard, often loses polish, and gradually rusts.

RULE 1. That meetings be held in rotation at each member’s house, for the enjoyment of conversation; music, grave and gay; dancing, gay only; and card-playing at limited stakes.

RULE II. That such meetings commence at seven and end about or after twelve, and that members and guests be requested to remember that punctuality has been called the politeness of kings.

RULE III. That as gentlemen are allowed for the whole season to appear, like the raven, in one suit, ladies are to have the like privilege; and that no lady be allowed to quiz or notice the habits of another lady; and that demi-toilette in dress be considered the better taste in the family circle; not that the writer wishes to raise or lower the proper standard of ladies’ dress, which ought to be neither too high nor too low, but at a happy medium.

RULE IV. That any lady infringing the last rule be liable to reproof from the oldest lady present at the meeting, if the oldest lady, like the oldest inhabitant, can be discovered.

RULE V. That every member or guest be requested to bring with them their own vocal, instrumental, or dance music, and take it away with them, if possible, to avoid loss and confusion.

RULE VI. That no member or guest, able to sing, play, or dance, refuse, unless excused by medical certificate; and that no cold or sore throat be allowed to last more than a week.

RULE VII. That as every member or guest known to be able to sing, play, or dance, is bound to do so if requested, the performer (especially if timid) is to be kindly criticized and encouraged; it being a fact well known that the great masters of an art are always the most lenient critics, from their deep knowledge of the feeling, intelligence, and perseverance required to at all approach perfection.

RULE VIII. That gentlemen present do pay every attention to ladies, especially visitors; but such attention is to be general, and not particular - for instance, no gentleman is to dance more than three times with one lady during the evening, except in the case of lovers, privileged to do odd things during their temporary lunacy, and also married couples, who are expected to dance together at least once during the evening, and oftener if the please.

RULE IX. That to avoid unnecessary expense, the refreshments be limited to cold meat, sandwiches, bread, cheese, butter, vegetables, fruits, tea, coffee, negus, punch, malt liquors, &c., &c.

RULE X. That all personal or face to face laudatory speeches (commonly called toasts, or, as may be, roasts) be for the future forbidden, without permission or inquiry, for reasons following:- That as the family circle includes bachelors and spinsters, and he, she, or they may be secretly engaged, it will be therefore cruel to excite hopes that may be disappointed; and that as some well-informed Benedict of long experience may after supper advise the bachelor to find the way to woman’s heart - vice versa, some deep-feeling wife or widow, by “pity moven”, may, perhaps, after supper advise the spinster the other way, which, in public, is an impropriety manifestly to be avoided.

RULE XI. (suggested by a lady). That any lady, after supper, may (if she please) ask any gentleman apparently diffident, or requiring encouragement, to dance with her, and that no gentleman can of course refuse so kind a request.

RULE XII. That no gentleman be expected to escort any lady home on foot beyond a distance of three miles, unless the gentleman be positive and the lady agreeable.

RULE THE LAST. That as the foregoing remarks and rules are intended, in perfect good faith and spirit, to be considered general and not personal, no umbrage is taken, and the reader is to bear in mind the common and homely saying, - “Always at trifles scorn to take offence / It shows great pride and very little sense.”

The author goes on to recommend some ‘innocent recreations of the fireside’ which might be played on such occasions including Anagrams, Charades, Conundrums (example: Why is hot bread like a caterpillar? Because it‘s the grub that makes the butter fly.), Enigmas, Puzzles, Rebuses, Riddles and Transpositions. He remarks, “Many persons who have become noted for their literary compositions may date the origin of their success to the time when they attempted the composition of a trifling enigma or charade.” Indeed sir!

Source: Enquire Within Upon Everything (no date, but probably 1880s)

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