During the Regency and Victorian Periods, ladies of the aristocracy rigorously made a daily round of social calls, which were governed by strictly adhered to conventions. Precedence and rank defined each of these engagements. However, there was a distinct difference between calls among the mercantile and professional class and those who could count their ancestors among the English nobility.
While in London, ladies of the house drove about town in their carriages, attended by a pair of appropriately attired footmen. When calling upon another, the footman would inquire of the “at home” status at the intended destination. A butler, footman, or hall porter would either admit the lady or inform the footman that his mistress was “not at home to callers.” If no admittance was achieved, the footman would leave three calling cards with the servant who responded to the door knocker: one card from the mistress of the house he served (intended for the lady of the house upon which his mistress called) and two cards from the footman’s master (intended for the mistress and master of the house upon which his mistress called).
Rules of etiquette also prescribed how the cards were presented. The embossed cards were carried in a gold, silver, or ivory case. Leaving a card with a turned up corner indicated that the lady had called in person. A card inscribed with “p.p.c.” (pour prendre congé) indicated that the lady intended to leave town for a period of time. At a house in mourning, the lady might write the words “to inquire” on the back to indicate she had made a sympathy call.
Even at a country ball, a precedence was strictly adhered to. An exclusive area was corded off for those of the upper ranks to separate them from the everyday riffraff that could attend a country assembly. Do you recall the image of the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy standing apart from the rest of those in attendance at the Meryton Assembly? In the 2005 film, note Mr. Darcy’s (Matthew Macfadyen) near snub of the forward Mrs. Bennet, who drags her daughters through the throng to be presented to Mr. Bingley.
Tea was served between 4 and 5. With guests in the drawing room, the house’s mistress would ring for tea. A maid would deliver a tea cart that included a hanging silver kettle (often on a stand), a silver teapot, cream and sugar basins, and dainty cups and saucers of fine porcelain. When a guest departed, another maid was dispatched to accompany the person to the door.
From Project Gutenberg Ebook comes the book, Searchlights on Health by B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols. Below are the “Etiquette of Calls” listed on page 56 of this book. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13444/13444-h/13444-h.htm#page56).
ETIQUETTE OF CALLS.
In the matter of making calls it is the correct thing:
For the caller who arrived first to leave first.
To return a first call within a week and in person.
To call promptly and in person after a first invitation.
For the mother or chaperon to invite a gentleman to call.
To call within a week after any entertainment to which one has been invited.
You should call upon an acquaintance who has recently returned from a prolonged absence.
It as proper to make the first call upon people in a higher social position, if one is asked to do so.
It is proper to call, after an engagement has been announced, or a marriage has taken place, in the family.
For the older residents in the city or street to call upon the newcomers to their neighborhood is a long recognized custom.
It is proper, after a removal from one part of the city to another, to send out cards with one’s new address upon them.
To ascertain what are the prescribed hours for calling in the place where one is living, or making a visit, and to adhere to those hours is a duty that must not be overlooked.
A gentleman should ask for the lady of the house as well as the young ladies, and leave cards for her as well as for the head of the family.
“In Sense and Sensibility chapter 27 we are told that “[t]he morning was chiefly spent in leaving cards at the houses of Mrs. Jennings’s acquaintance to inform them of her being in town[.]” Later in that chapter we learn that Willoughby has left a card when he called while Mrs. Jennings and her charges were out driving. In Persuasion, Sir Walter says that he will send his card to Lady Russell when she arrives in Bath and is overjoyed when he receives the cards of his cousins Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
“I can however tell you the following things about calling cards:
- Men’s cards and women’s cards were different sizes, men’s cards being smaller;
- Cards were typically carried in decorative cases designed for that purpose;
- Once a card was given it would be displayed in the front hall, allowing visitors to browse and see who their host and/or hostess was acquainted with, similar to a Regency era LinkedIn or Facebook;
- Regency cards were smaller than Victorian cards;
- Regency cards were also less decorated than Victorian cards, tending to have simpler type and fewer designs;
- Regency cards also offered less information, the card Miss Manners discusses included a name, address and day the lady would be at home for visitors, a Regency card would be much more likely to only contain the person’s name, title (if applicable), and possibly an address or what part of town the person lived in but that was not universal.” (Story and History)