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Tuesday 18 August 2020

Regency introductions - a Regency History guide

Sir William presents Elizabeth Bennet to Mr Darcy as a desirable partner by C E Brock (1895) From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
Sir William presents Elizabeth Bennet to Mr Darcy as a desirable partner
by C E Brock (1895) From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
If you have read a Regency romance or watched one of the many Austen adaptations on television or film, you are probably familiar with the concept of an introduction. The hero might go to a ball and ask a common acquaintance to introduce him to the heroine. But a Regency introduction meant more than just learning someone’s name.
What is an introduction?
An introduction is exactly what it sounds like – where one person is introduced or presented to another. Today, if we go to a party or a networking event, a mutual friend might introduce us to someone we don’t know, but it is acceptable, if we are brave enough, to introduce ourselves and expect the person to introduce themselves back.
In the Regency, it was not as simple as that. It is hard for us to get our heads around the significance of an introduction. It meant more than knowing someone’s name. If you allowed someone to be presented to you, then you were accepting the relationship.
According to Freeling’s The Pocket Book of Etiquette (1837):
A proper introduction entitles you to the good offices of the person to whom you are introduced; it is therefore a circumstance of importance, and the necessary forms must be attended to.1
Until a formal introduction had taken place, it was as if two people did not know each other.
In Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (1782), Delvile begged Cecilia to introduce him to the Harrels:
Young Delvile, after painting in lively colours the loss his house had sustained by her quitting it, and dwelling with equal force upon the regret of his mother and his own, asked in a low voice if she would do him so much honour as to introduce him to Mr Harrel; “As the son,” added he, “of a brother guardian, I think I have a kind of claim to his acquaintance.”
Cecilia could not refuse, though as the request was likely to occasion more frequent meetings, she persuaded herself she was unwilling to comply. The ceremony therefore past, and was again repeated with Mrs Harrel, who, though she had several times seen him, had never been formally made known to him.2
Once the introduction had been made, the relationship could begin:
Mean time young Delvile failed not to honour Cecilia's introduction of him to Mr Harrel, by waiting upon that gentleman as soon as the ill effects of his accident at the Pantheon permitted him to leave his own house.3
An introduction as a recommendation
In a formal setting, a third party was always involved. The third party was recommending one person to another. In Cecilia, Delvile wanted to introduce a friend of his to his mother:
Will you, madam, when he is recovered, permit me to introduce him to you?”
“Certainly;” said she, smiling; “but have a care your recommendation does not disgrace your discernment.”4
At balls, the introducing role could be taken by an official person, such as a patroness at Almack’s or the Master of Ceremonies at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817), this is how Catherine Morland was introduced to Henry Tilney:
They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney.5
Mr Tilney is presented to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey by H M Brock (1898) from The Novels and Letters of Jane Austen ed by R Brimley Johnson (1906)
Mr Tilney is presented to Catherine Morland in
Northanger Abbey by H M Brock (1898) from The Novels and Letters of Jane Austen ed by R Brimley Johnson (1906)
After dancing with Henry at the Assembly Rooms, it was up to Catherine whether the relationship continued.

Quoting Lord Chesterfield in The Pocket Book of Etiquette, Freeling advised gentlemen:
If you wish to dance with any lady with whom you are unacquainted, you must apply to the master of the ceremonies for an introduction; and if there be no manifest difference of station, he will introduce you. Recollect, however, that your acquaintance with the lady ceases with the dance; therefore, should you ever meet her, you must not attempt to address her, unless she should first bow; then you will merely lift your hat, and return the salute.6
The rules of introductions
A book that many Regency writers refer to is Manners and Rules of Good Society by a member of the aristocracy. However, it was first published in the late 19th century and so has its roots in Victorian etiquette, not Georgian. The same rules probably applied, but customs change over time, so we cannot be sure.
Another book that I’ve used to help inform my thinking is Black’s Titles and Forms of Address – but that’s even worse, as it was published in the 20th century!
We can certainly pick up some guidelines from earlier books on etiquette, such as Reverend Dr John Trusler’s A System of Etiquette (1804) and Arthur Freeling’s The Pocket Book of Etiquette (1837), but they don’t have the answers to all my questions.
The basic rules are:
1.  A gentleman is always presented to a lady.
2. A person of lower rank is always presented to a person of higher rank.
The idea is that the lady or more important person can decline the introduction.
So, at a ball, a lady, or her chaperon, could refuse an introduction to someone whose acquaintance was considered undesirable. By accepting an introduction, the lady was welcoming the relationship and would be expected to dance with the gentleman, unless she was not dancing at all or already engaged to dance.
Likewise, a person of rank could refuse to be introduced to an ill-bred person. By accepting the introduction, they were accepting their society.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), Elizabeth Bennet was horrified when her cousin Mr Collins proposed to introduce himself to Mr Darcy, his superior in rank:
“You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr Darcy!”
“Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine’s nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”
Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Mr Collins listened to her with the determined air of following his own inclination.7
Mr Collins’s presumption was accorded a frosty response:
And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words “apology,” “Hunsford,” and “Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr Darcy was eyeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr Collins allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr Darcy’s contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way.8
Mr Collins introduces himself to Mr Darcy by C E Brock (1895) from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
Mr Collins introduces himself to Mr Darcy
by C E Brock (1895)
from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
In Persuasion (1817), Sir Walter Elliot, as the superior in rank, began an acquaintance with his heir, the young Mr Elliot:
Soon after Lady Elliot's death, Sir Walter had sought the acquaintance, and though his overtures had not been met with any warmth, he had persevered in seeking it, making allowance for the modest drawing-back of youth; and, in one of their spring excursions to London, when Elizabeth was in her first bloom, Mr Elliot had been forced into the introduction.
He was at that time a very young man, just engaged in the study of the law; and Elizabeth found him extremely agreeable, and every plan in his favour was confirmed. He was invited to Kellynch Hall; he was talked of and expected all the rest of the year; but he never came.9
Obviously, there are occasions when these rules clash, where the gentleman is of higher rank than the lady. In this situation, sex trumps rank.
Early in Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mr Darcy, although superior in rank to everyone in the room, would have been introduced to a prospective dance partner. However, he
…declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party.10
The exception to this rule is where there is a significant age difference between the parties. In these situations, sex and rank may give way to age.
For example, in Northanger Abbey (1817), Catherine Morland was introduced to General Tilney, who was older and superior to her in rank, though she was a lady:
The affair thus happily settled, she [Catherine] was introduced by Miss Tilney to her father, and received by him with such ready, such solicitous politeness as recalled Thorpe's information to her mind, and made her think with pleasure that he might be sometimes depended on.11
Mr Wickham is introduced to the Bennet girls by C E Brock (1895) From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
Mr Wickham is introduced to the Bennet girls
by C E Brock (1895)
From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1895 edition)
The wording of Regency introductions
Manners and Rules of Good Society (1888) stated that:
The correct formula in use when making introductions would be to say, ‘Mrs X – Lady Z,’ thus mentioning the name of the lady of lowest rank first, as she is the person introduced to the lady of highest rank. It would be unnecessary and vulgar to repeat the names of the two ladies in a reversed manner – thus, ‘Mrs X – Lady Z. Lady Z – Mrs X.’12
I find this wording unnatural. I would tend to address the higher ranked person first, and then mention the name of the lower ranked person being introduced. However, it is hard to tell what was said in practice as contemporary novels rarely give the actual wording used. 
In contrast, modern-day Regency romance writers often give detailed accounts of introductions and the normal approach is the double introduction. I have read that introductions should go in pairs, but this quote seems to contradict it. Which is correct?
In most cases that I have looked at, the lower ranked/younger/male person is presented to the upper ranked/older/female person with no suggestion that the introduction is reciprocal. 
For example, in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), Frank Churchill is introduced to Emma. There is no suggestion that Emma was also introduced to Frank:
The Frank Churchill so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before her—he was presented to her, and she did not think too much had been said in his praise; he was a very good looking young man.13
So, were double introductions a thing?
I have come across a few examples of what you could call double introductions.
In Northanger Abbey (1817):
The young ladies were introduced to each other, Miss Tilney expressing a proper sense of such goodness, Miss Morland with the real delicacy of a generous mind making light of the obligation.14
In Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (1782):
“Miss Beverley, then,” said the father, “I must present to you Mr Mortimer Delvile, my son; and, Mortimer, in Miss Beverley I desire you will remember that you respect a ward of your father's.”15

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Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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1. Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (Liverpool, 1837).
2. Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782).
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817).
6. Freeling op cit.
7. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).
8. Ibid.
9. Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817).
10. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).
11. Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817).
12. A Member of the Aristocracy, Manners and Rules of Good Society (1888).
13. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815).
14. Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817).
15. Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782).
Sources used include:
A Member of the Aristocracy, Manners and Rules of Good Society (1888)
A Member of the Aristocracy, Manners and Tones of Good Society (c1880)
Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817)
Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817)
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Black, Adam and Charles (publishers), Titles and forms of address - a guide to their correct use (9th edition) (1955)
Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
Freeling, Arthur, The Ladies' Pocket Book of Etiquette (7th edition) (1840)
Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (1837)
Trusler, Rev Dr John, A System of Etiquette (1804)