« ForrigeFortsæt »
economy is an object, there is probably no fire, and the servant dexterously inserts a match between the bars of the fireless grate, before informing the lady of your arrival. You sit for some minutes, which seem to you interminable, alternately looking over a few smartlybound books which radiate from the middle of a round table, and watching the small flickering flame of the newly-lighted fire, which has no effect whatever beyond emitting faint puffs of smoke into the room. It would take two hours for that fire to burn up. At last Mrs. Aappears in an old gown, and very fine cap, evidently hastily put on, and a good deal flustered by your unexpected arrival. You greet her with a chilling smile; she is absent and fussy topic after topic falls to the ground, till you feel utterly vacant and idea-less. At last your evil genius prompts you to hope that the dear children are well, and to opine that they must have grown out of all recollection. Now you bave struck the right chord! Mrs. A brightens up at once. children have colds and are all at home; but they are so much grown, and she wishes you so much to see them. You glance at the clock, and see that the twenty minutes you had allotted yourself have nearly expired. You are afraid you must run away now, but it is a real disappointment. In the mean time, however, the bell has been rung and the children sent for. With a heart full of despair, and a countenance exemplary in its resignation, you wait five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, while the little darlings are washed, combed, frizzled, and furbelowed. You feel what a waste of time and trouble this is, as in whatever guise they appear they will be equally uninteresting to you; but it has unlocked the floodgates of Mrs. A——'s heart, and her chatter trickles on, lively, meaningless, and uninterrupted. At last the door opens, and children of all ages are ushered in, followed by a most objectionable baby, with a bald head and red legs, which the nurse places on its mother's knee. You try to look at it
kindly, and approach to caress it, but it immediately crams its hand into its mouth, turns its head away, and greets you with a tremendous roar. It is a frightful child, and you feel that the only thing upon which you can compliment its mother is the strength of its lungs. However, you ask its age, compassionate its teeth-cutting, and after kissing two or three of the least objectionable of the brats, you are able to escape, and you throw yourself back in the carriage with an ejaculation of thanksgiving that at least that is over! The next visit in your allotted round is possibly to some family recently settled in the neighbourhood, and perhaps few things are more difficult than a visit under such circumstances. You know nothing of their antecedents, cedents, relatives, opinions, or politics. You have not even any local interest in common with them, and feel convinced that by some mischance you will be led to discourse upon the one subject that should be avoided. It is quite remarkable how often this unfortunate coincidence occurs. It is enough for some one to have been visited by severe affliction, the result, perhaps, of fire or shipwreck, to make conversation drift into the channel that all are anxious to avoid, and every fire and every shipwreck that has taken place during the last ten years is sure to be raked up and discussed.
As a rule, society is, both easier and pleasanter in a town than in the country, and the necessity of paying morning visits a far less heavy tax upon our time and patience. Tiresome and formal as morning visits are, they are at all events less stiff than they are represented to us in books of the last century, or in the traditions we have of our great-grandmothers curtseying to each other in their stately hoops, and sipping their chocolate, but we doubt if they are not quite as dull. Indeed the very cups of chocolate, which were handed to every visitor, must have assisted in breaking the ice, and these were as much de rigueur as cake and wine were a few years ago to those who
were newly married, and who, if not of the upper ten thousand, sat for three days in their wedding clothes to receive visits, before beginning the real business of their life. should be fortunate if any visit it ever fell to our lot to pay or receive, should equal in humour or amusement that so admirably described in the Vicar of Wakefield,' as paid by Lady Blarney and Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Skeggs, often as we may be inclined to murmur 'Fudge' to the inane chatter and malicious gossip to which we are compelled to listen. We remember a rather absurd incident which happened to a lady from her over-zeal in the performance of this supposed duty. She was living in a part of Scotland where country houses are few and far between, and proposed to pay a long round of visits that would occupy the whole day. Her daughters objected very much to this plan, saying that going without luncheon always made them ill. Lady B-assured them that she had remembered this difficulty, and had provided for it by arranging that they should be at Castle Cabout two o'clock. They will be at luncheon then, and are sure to offer us some.'
All took place as had been settled; they timed their visit just at the right hour, but though Mrs. C
was delighted to see them, not a word was said about luncheon. She went on talking more agreeably than usual, but her famished guests responded coldly and languidly, for their hearts were set on more substantial fare, and even the newest bit of gossip fell flat and stale. Lady B- waited as long as it was possible, or that any hope remained, and at last in despair rose to go, but unfortunately gave utterance to the thought that had so entirely engrossed her. 'Good-bye, dear Mrs. Luncheon,' was heard with astonishment by her hostess, and suppressed laughter from her daughters. But even such an unusually broad hint does not appear to have had the desired effect.
Absurd mistakes have occasionally occurred from the similarity of the outside of the houses in many parts of London; such as a man
walking quietly into a house imagining it to be the one in which he had been invited to dine, and never discovering his error till after the soup and fish, when the real guest hastily entered to find his place taken; the family next door, meanwhile, waiting for dinner, and wondering what could have become of their friend.
One of the most ludicrous mistakes of this kind occurred to a very stiff old gentleman who had been with great difficulty persuaded by his wife to call upon some old friends of hers, with whom he was quite unacquainted, and who had recently settled in London. He at last consented, after making very particular inquiries as to where they lived, and if his wife was certain she knew the street and the number.
'Yes, she was only there last week. No.-, in Street. She knew it perfectly well.'
It was a hot summer's day, and they determined to go out early, and to walk there before luncheon. A sort of doubt flitted through the lady's mind as they entered the street; but she remembered that when she had called there before she had not come through the Park, and so had come in at the other end. She was very careful not to betray herself, and, besides, felt convinced that she knew the outside of the house too well to mistake it.
"That is it, I suppose,' said her husband, irritable from the walk in the scorching sun, and having been dragged out to pay a morning visit, his especial detestation.
'Oh, yes, certainly.' Yes, she felt sure that was Mrs. E- -'s house.
'Pray be sure,' he rejoined, testily; 'I should not like to make a mistake.'
But she was certain she knew the house, and the creepers in the balcony; she was not likely to make a mistake.
When the door opened, the servant, and the hall, and the staircase, all looked different; but she concealed any doubts that she felt, and asked boldly if Mrs. E- was at home. When the answer was readily given in the affirmative, she dismissed her momentary panic, and felt quite at
ease again. Still she was not quite comfortable, the room looked so different to that she was in but a few days before, and two gentlemen were there, talking eagerly, neither of whom she knew. The servant came
to say that Mrs. E- was upstairs, but would come down very soon, so rather nervously they sat down and waited.
Suddenly the door was thrown open, and a lady, with flowers in her hair, and a low evening dress, hastily entered. The old gentleman looked up in considerable astonishment, which was increased by seeing the two ladies both stop short in their eager advance to throw themselves, as he supposed, into one another's arms, evidently quite at a loss what to do. At last there came simultaneous murmurs and regrets about a mistake,' the lady explaining that she concluded the early visit was from Mr. F, the celebrated artist, to whom she was sitting for her portrait. Some explanations followed, and, strangely enough, it was discovered that a family of the same name had recently bought a house a few doors off, and this had already caused several awkward mistakes. However, in spite of their annoyance, Mrs. E
persuaded her visitors
to stay to luncheon, and this intimacy, so strangely begun, continued through life.
The facilities of meeting afforded by a large capital, and the great variety of society to be obtained, make it far more agreeable than that of the twenty or thirty families we visit in the country.
who live in a large city are usually fully occupied. They are less prone to take offence, have wider interests, and a larger field for pleasant conversation.
And yet, grievous as the necessity of paying morning visits is, it is less so than the necessity of submitting to the evening invasions to which we are subjected as soon as we have crossed the Channel. On a winter's night in England, when once the curtains are drawn, the lamps lighted, and the family assembled by the fireside, we feel that we have effectually shut out the outer world, that the evening is our own to spend with our books, or
music, or in any way we like best, in the society of those we love, and that whatever causes for sorrow and anxiety we may have, for the time they are laid aside, and that, at all events, we are sure not to be bored.
When English people first establish themselves abroad, whether it is for pleasure or necessity, they invariably miss the look of home to which they are accustomed, and which is England's special characteristic. The very appearance of the house is against it. Stiff, heavy furniture, ranged against the wall, the polished, slippery, and carpetless floor, the total absence of everything approaching to comfort, all preclude it. But, notwithstanding, you do all that is possible to counteract this dreary feeling; you surround yourself with English books; you gather your children around the wood fire, which, at least, is cheerful. You have taken the precaution to bring tea with you, and your own teapot. The room really looks comfortable, and you feel with satisfaction that at last you have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of home. Suddenly the door opens, you hear the cackling of shrill female voices, and three or four lively ladies, in demi-toilette, enter in an empressé manner, assuring you with great cheerfulness that they are come to spend the evening with you in a friendly way. Utterly aghast at this unexpected invasion, and feeling it anything but an act of friendship on their part, you yield yourself up to despair, send the children to bed, give up your yet untasted tea, and endure two hours' conversation in some language with which you are not particularly conversant, feeling as if there were no more peace left for you in the world.
But does the field of choice lie only between these two evils? Must we sacrifice our mornings to keep our evenings free? If we must, let us at least try and devise something by which the infliction may be lessened.
Why, for example, should not the custom that prevails in London be carried out in the country? When a fashionable lady wishes to announce her arrival for the season, her visiting list is sent to her porter,
or some one deputed for the purpose, with orders to leave her cards at the houses specified before a given day. The necessary form has been gone through; the world is aware of her advent, and out of three or four hundred acquaintances she can select the few she chooses to cultivate in person. Why should not this practice extend to the country, and instead of the tiresome visit and dreary drive, cards might be sent to every house where a visit is supposed to be due, either by post or by a servant? The externals of acquaintanceship will then have been recognized, and any further inter
course may be avoided or resorted to at pleasure.
There is no reason why society in the country should not be agreeable. A dinner, a ball, a pic-nic, may be pleasant. A well-selected party, staying together in a country house, undoubtedly is. Neither would we depreciate the value of kind and neighbourly interest. Friendship and sympathy, in this cold and selfish world, are far too precious to be despised. All that we contend for is, that these are not attained by the dry formality and hollow conventionalism of morning visits.
TO THE EDITOR.
IR,-A large percentage of 'London Society' having temporarily migrated to the watering-places, I have thought it probable you might like its readers to be informed, through the medium of a veteran beau, how royal old Brighton, the queen of those watering-places, is deporting herself in view of her incoming season.
As you know, Mr. Editor, there are several seasons at Brighton. There is the dancing season, the invalid season, the bathing season, and the season. Already this year, the flutter of our round of hops, our standing suppers, our bals costumés, and our other terpsichorean aids, have been left in the far distance. Already, our charades and private theatricals have produced their calculated effect, many of the flames thus fanned and fuelled having ended in matches, instead of the matches ending in flames, as theoretically they ought to do. Already, though the year is scarce into the yellow leaf, we have bath-chaired half the invalids in England; we have restored to a comparative health, and to the superlative joy of two maiden aunts, that hope of his race, Lord Ravenlocks, who had come to us in a wasted condition from Borderlands; we have assisted with downcast looks and pent-up tears, at the gradual sinking of the beautiful Miss de Kaye, until at last
she departed for good and aye from this figuratively desert shore; we have watched too, with sentiments of indignant surprise, the heartless behaviour of the Dowager Lady Heavisides, who, lolling at ease in her chair, would persist in absorbing the promenade, though she was fat and fifty, could walk perfectly well if she chose, and was good for at least twenty more whist campaigns. Already this year, in a word, has our Brighton fulfilled her mission of working wished-for wonders by some, withholding health from others, and fostering obtrusive fancies among not a few. John the bath-chairman, respectfully touching his hat, makes no odds of admitting his season to have been 'fust rate.'
Not so the poor bathing women. Lately, I sustained a prolonged conversation with my old ally Mother Neptune, and her trusty aides-decamp Long Lizz and Pretty Polly. Mother Neptune, having served twenty-eight years in the blue gowns, is still an able marine per mare et terram. You may descry her forces, on any morning between the hours of seven and twelve, thrown out skilfully in skirmishing order, up Regency Square, Preston Street, Waterloo Street, and Brunswick Square, with the strategic purpose of waylaying aspirant mermaids, the moment the light craft heave in sight from their respective ports.
Nevertheless, for some hitherto unexplained reason or other, the actual bathers have been this year scanty in number. Mother Neptune declares, that, in the whole course of her briny experience, she has never known a worse season. She thinks 'the bathing-Quality is a-gettin' tired o' Brighton.' Long Lizz, however, and Pretty Polly, who, like the Emperor, comprennent leur époque, unhesitatingly put it down to them London banks, as has smashed such a lot.' Certain is it, that July and August, formerly prolific in bathers, and with unusually good bathing weather through the season just over, hardly sent us any visitors. The continent being closed, unless France and Belgium, where they can all have gone to, is a mystery: but, wherever their whereabouts, it has not been Brighton. Nor am I wholly astonished. Siding generally with Mother Neptune, I go further, and assign a cause as follows.
Though Brighton be justly termed the queen of watering-places, it is anything but the queen of bathingplaces. True, landlubbers possess the amplest resources. But, once descend from the promenades, and you have neither the firm sands of Ramsgate or Trouville, nor the outstretch of Scarborough or Biarritz. Nature has been very unkind to this beach. For three ruthless sea-miles your path is one continued stumble over dykes shingly stones. I never saw a place more imperatively demanding artistic help, in order to make good the defects of nature, and I never saw a place where art less loved her duties. In presence of such a glaringly ill-bred beach, the appliances of art count here as next to nothing. To be sure, the bathing attendants are practised salts, and the very civilest of the civil: but the machines they serve, viewed by the status and wants of Brighton, fall shamefully below par, the greater portion being fit for nothing else but to be drafted off to Rottingdean or Littlehampton. Look at the Ramsgate machinesthey are twice the size, besides their superior equipment. Let our Brighton proprietors educate their bal
neal minds by visiting Biarritz, or say Ostend: and, if they did but get a glimpse of the last thing in bathing- boxes' at Trouville, we might anticipate an extensive hiding of diminished heads. Surely, queenly Brighton deserves something better than thin deal boards knocked together in series. The anomaly were of the strangest, only that stranger exist elsewhere. What city, for instance, stands more in need of good cab accommodation than London? and what city is less provided? So Brighton beach, with its shabby old boxes. Why, Royal George himself might almost recognize acquaintances amongst them, so little since then are they altered. It is said, better days are coming. But when, aye when? When our new pier has rusted through sheer want of wear, when the corporation have finished their ill-timed tinkering at the promenade, when the Hove commissioners graciously Vouchsafe to reopen the green that should have been ready last May, when-O desired consummation!the Cliftonville heiress has come of age, then, mayhap then, will somebody compassionate poor Beachy. But, why wait? Bathers must now walk a long step east of the new pierage, before they can court the ocean wave in a civilized manner, and, even there, the descent includes many unpleasant jolts, and the reascent as many desperate pulls. To the west, where I hang out, you have to plunge down semi-precipices in a break-neck sort of a way, or to flounder along through a shingle that reminds one uncommonly of the cinder-field on Vesuvius, only it is thicker, sharper, and three times as deep, less the romance. I have written somebody:' but, looking at our beach from an enterprising point of view, my word ought to read somebodies.' What do you think, Mr. Editor, of a BrightonBeach-and-Bathing-Box Company, on the principle of the General Omnibus, limited' of course in everything except comfort? One day, as I was lounging about with my esteemed friend Mr. Yeanay, the idea struck me so forcibly, that I rushed home at once to sketch a prospectus. prospectus. Yeanay speaks very