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How To Shine In Society 1885

 The Rough Path of the Debutante Made Smooth
 
 
 

A small card appearing in several issues of a fashionable journal lately attracted the notice of a reporter of the Times, who determined to make an investigation. A note of inquiry to the published address elicited a prompt reply, appointing an interview for the next evening at 8 o'clock. At that hour, following the directions given, the reporter found himself touching the electric button at the side of a door upon which was a small black card, lettered in gilt. "M. Blank, Instructor." The door was at the head of a flight of stairs leading to Broadway but a short distance above the Fifth avenue Hotel, and opened into a small reception room, plainly but well furnished, and pleasantly lighted by gas, filtered through the colored globes now so much in vogue. A neat looking maid had answered the ring and taken the card, and, in response to an inquiry, vanished an instant before drawing aside a portiere and ushering the reporter into an inner and much larger room.

The second room was a combination of library office, and parlor, with just enough of each to produce a most happy effect. It was a large room, with one corner rounded out into a small conservatory, separated from the rest of the apartment by glass doors, through which the eye saw gratefully potted plants and flowers in bloom. The floor was of oak highly polished and strewn with rich rugs: around two sides ran low rows of cherry wood shelves packed closely with books; a small upright piano succeeded a low divan of dull red blush and ebony on the third side, while fronting the door, which formed the entrance, was a picturesque, tiled fireplace on whose shiny andirons were piled some blazing hickory sticks. Beneath a drop light which swung from a handsome crystal chandelier in the centre of the room was a veritable office desk in walnut and green enamel cloth and as well littered with newspaper cuttings and open books as that of the managing editor of a metropolitan newspaper. At this table in a revolving office chair was seated a lady clad wholly in black. She was of middle age, her dark hair slightly streaked with gray, and as she swung her chair to greet the new comer, a face of pleasing and intelligent expression was disclosed. She did not rise, but glancing at an open note in her hand she said: "Mr. L., I presume?"

The reporter acquiesced. "Be seated, please," motioning to a comfortable looking one-armed affair opposite her. "And now what can I do for you?" The reporter briefly explained.

"Ah," said the lady, "you are a reporter, an interviewer", this with a trifling but significant change of manner. "And my advertisement aroused your curiosity, " she continued, repeating the reporter's words; "I might have guessed that "she added, half to herself; then after a moment's cogitation she looked up. "It is over three years now since I began my business or profession, whichever you like, and until lately I have never advertised. And this is my first interview. However, I see no reason why I should not give you a few moments. What would you like to know?  Anything and everything. eh? This is the proverbial modesty of your guild, I suppose," she began brightly in response to the reporter's opening remark. "Well, you saw on my door M. Blank, Instructor, and that tells the story. That is just what I am, "Instructor at Large." I might put it after the political fashion. I am a sort of general utility personage, a human encyclopedia of modern information, a sort of handbook of society and business, a crystallization, as it were, of the ethics of the various occupations of life. I am all things to all persons. I assist a young woman to buy a bonnet, and choose a husband. I teach a young man to tie his cravat and write his love letter. In a word, I am the "lacking ingredient" to the lives of more men and women. In this and other cities than you would believe if I told their sum in round numbers.

"A young lady is entering society. She is fresh from school, has never been out and is green in a thousand little ways that will mar her success at the opening of her career. Her mother is dead, perhaps, or, as frequently happens, is not herself accustomed to fashionable social usages. I am appealed to and take charge of the debutante from her opening ball. Little details that other girls learn from embarrassing experience my pupil is at once proficient in. Watch the average girl leave a carriage for instance. With head thrust forward she climbs awkwardly out and must pause a moment on the curb to resume equilibrium. Now watch my charge, leaning slightly back, one foot touches the step and with an easy natural motion the other finds the pavement and the figure is at once erect and well poised. In all details of card etiquette and note writing, in the duties of hostess and visitors, in the simple act of easily returning a bow upon the street, in the choice of suitable flowers and costumes for various wear. In the parlor or ball room, in the theatre, or at church, my charge has the advantage of knowing just the proper thing to do: and I go further. I give her little hints of small talk, teach her how to receive a compliment and rebuke idle flattery, correct faults of pronunciation and manner of speech, give her, in short, the aid to ease and self possession, which comes from confident knowledge and mature experience.

"She goes to an opera one night, so do I. The next morning I discuss it with her, pointing out its beauties and defects, giving her an intelligent idea of criticism, all of which serves her excellently at dinner the same evening, when two hours of conversation are before her. I look upon them as a doctor does upon a fever patient likely to have a long run of illness. In addition I have any number of persons who come to me for a single prescription only."

"You have men, too, you say, "suggested the reporter. "More than women," was the prompt reply. "You cannot realize until you have investigated the number of young men in metropolitan society whose early advantages have been limited. They come to New York, make their way financially, and get into society. There they are soon in deep water. I have guided scores through threatening shoals to smooth sailing. A man is asked on his first yachting trip. He does not know what to wear. I tell him and impart a little useful nautical knowledge besides. Another is about to take out a young lady for the first time. He is full of trepidation and questions. I help him choose the flowers he will send, and if men are wearing gloves advise with him upon the color to select for his wear. I remind him he must sit opposite, not beside, Mademoiselle in the carriage, and, in fact, help him through all the little details whose observance constitutes the agreeable escort. Conversationally, too, I come to the rescue of the embarrassed and diffident male. I suggest topics and instruct him on little fashionable phrases and tricks of speech. I do this by actual object lessons. Shall we try one?"

The reporter could only acquiesce. "Well, then, I am Miss A., whom you have just brought in to dinner. We are all seated, the oysters before us and the footman saying over our shoulder, 'Hock or Sherry?" What would be your venture on the little ripple of small talk that must bubble gently on through soup, fish entrees, and dessert?" "I should probably ask Miss A. if she was fond of oysters," said the reporter brilliantly.

"Oh, fie, you never would if you were a pupil of mine. You would glance at the graceful flower piece in the centre of the table and comment easily on the beauty of the late Autumn flowers and applaud the good taste which prompted the use of flowers appropriate to the season rather than the stereotyped provisions of the florist's greenhouse. From this the transition would be easy and natural to the salient question, 'Do you admire orchids, Miss A?' and that being the present fashionable plant you may be sure my patron knows all about orchids. I have one or two especially fine specimens in my conservatory over there," nodding across the room, "so that my brief lecture upon them has been pointedly illustrated."

"But, if there should be no flowers?" questioned the reporter, with Dundreary logic. "Oh, I am no one-ideaed monster," laughed his companion. "I merely put the possible dialogue in a very probable way. I have provided him, besides, with several other starting points, and I have given him, too, some advice upon a general method in conversation. Attention and concentration I have told him are two most valuable adjuncts. The most trite remark made by your vis-a-vis, should be carefully but quickly considered and replied to in as intelligent and sincere a fashion as is possible with you. Note the mode of your companion, too. Be playful if she is so inclined, and the reverse if you find her serious. Above all be absolutely courteous and deferential to her opinion. You will find some ignorant and coarse natures who will think they have overwhelmed you with their superior knowledge, but even they will be conscious of the grace of your manner, and you will not have lost an opportunity to cultivate a habitual politeness which is most agreeable and very useful to every man.

"You must have some curious customers occasionally," hazarded the reporter after a moment's pause.

"Many," was the reply. "A 'young clergyman came to me recently recommended by one of my oldest patrons. This youthful divine was afflicted, he told me, with a lachrymose tendency which annoyed him terribly in his pulpit. Invariably as he approached the climaxes of his sermon or read the words of an affecting hymn his eyes filled with tears and frequently overflowed. I helped him-no. I shall not tell you how: that is part of my capital. Another clergyman, a Presbyterian, had trouble with his long prayer. I actually wrote out several formulae for him and aided him in their satisfactory delivery. I begin to think I can do anything," she added with an amused smile.

"Something of my terms? Oh, I get various' prices: frequently I am paid by the month, occasionally by the year. I charged a young lady $10 last week to teach her in two lessons how to laugh musically, and an old bachelor paid me a dollar this morning for convincing him in 10 minutes that he must not dye his whiskers. No. I do not know that I have any companions in the business. The idea was suggested to me by a train of circumstances too long to recount, when I was left penniless three years ago at my husband's death. From a small beginning I have gradually enlarged my trade, until now I can count a large clientele. Yes, you may publish all I have told you, only don't mention my name or address. It is a mistake, I think, that I should have advertised. I shall not anymore. A friend advised it, but my occupation is not one to be benefited by it. It places me, besides, too much at the mercy of possibly unpleasant intruders, and this is my first and last interview. I am not sorry to have seen you. Certainly I shall be glad to see you professionally at any time. Will you take a little gratuitous advice? I thought so. Well, then, don't use gilt-edged visiting cards. They are not in good taste and are really quite inexcusable," and the "instructors" glance fell for the fraction of an instant upon the bit of pasteboard which had preceded the reporter's entrance.

 

 
 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: How To Shine In Society 1885
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina

Source:

New York Times : October 25, 1885
Time & Date Stamp:  

 

   
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