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Friday, 6 May 2022

Morning calls in the Regency - a Regency History guide

Morning dress on a visit  La Belle Assemblée (Sept 1810)
Morning dress on a visit
 La Belle Assemblée (Sept 1810)
What was a morning call?

Morning calls were short visits of ceremony paid to your acquaintances. There were rules of etiquette surrounding these visits—when they should be made, how long and how often, and suitable topics of conversation.

What was the purpose of a morning call?

In her book, Domestic Duties or Instructions to young married ladies on the management of their households (1825), Mrs Parkes explained that these calls were necessary to maintain a wide circle of acquaintance:

When it is desirable to keep together a large circle of acquaintance, morning visits cannot very well be dispensed with. You must be aware that as time and circumstances seldom permit the frequent interchange of other visits, our acquaintance would become estranged from us, if our intercourse with them were not occasionally renewed by receiving and paying morning visits. A good economist of time will, of course, keep morning visits strictly for this purpose; and, not considering them as intended merely for amusement, will not make them more frequently than is necessary. By the occasional appropriation of a few hours many debts of this kind may be paid off at once.1

When did you make morning calls?

Contrary to what you might think, given their name, morning calls were usually made in the afternoon. This is somewhat confusing but arises from the fact that during the Regency, the morning referred to the whole period of time before dinner.

In The Pocket Book of Etiquette (1837), Freeling stated:

The most proper time to pay a morning visit, in the fashionable world, is between one and four o'clock.2

He went on to say:

A certain discretion as to the time of visiting is necessary; you would not therefore call on a person at three o'clock if you were aware that he dined or was specially occupied at that hour.3

Jane Austen wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra in June 1808 of receiving morning calls from noon:

Early as it was—only 12 o’clock—we had scarcely taken off our bonnets before company came, Lady Knatchbull and her mother; and after them succeeded Mrs White, Mrs Hughes and her two children, Mr Moore, Harriot and Louisa, and John Bridges, with such short intervals between any, as to make it a matter of wonder to me, that Mrs Knight and I should ever had been ten minutes alone, or have had any leisure for comfortable talk.4

John Dashwood calls on Mrs Jennings by Hugh Thomson in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen 1896 edition
John Dashwood calls on Mrs Jennings
by Hugh Thomson in Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen 1896 edition
‘At home’ or ‘not at home’

It was not always convenient or desirable to receive visitors.

In A System of Etiquette (1804), Trusler wrote:

It is the fashion in exalted life now among equals, never to be at home to a morning visitor; nor indeed to any visitor we are not in the habits of intimacy with; therefore to refuse admittance to a visitor, you are not disposed to receive, will not be considered as rude. At such times, your servant should be directed to say that you are not at home. This is in fact no lie, for the expression not at home, merely implies that you are not disposed to see company, and is understood in this sense. Of course if you meet with the same reply when you go to pay a visit, you are not to be offended; unless you had been particularly invited, and you go at the appointed time.5

In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland misses the Tilneys calling for her to go on a walk because of Mr Thorpe’s duplicity. She calls on Miss Tilney to apologise:

She [Catherine] reached the house without any impediment, looked at the number, knocked at the door, and inquired for Miss Tilney. The man believed Miss Tilney to be at home, but was not quite certain. Would she be pleased to send up her name? She gave her card. In a few minutes the servant returned, and with a look which did not quite confirm his words, said he had been mistaken, for that Miss Tilney was walked out. Catherine, with a blush of mortification, left the house. She felt almost persuaded that Miss Tilney was at home, and too much offended to admit her; and as she retired down the street, could not withhold one glance at the drawing-room windows, in expectation of seeing her there, but no one appeared at them. At the bottom of the street, however, she looked back again, and then, not at a window, but issuing from the door, she saw Miss Tilney herself. She was followed by a gentleman, whom Catherine believed to be her father, and they turned up towards Edgar’s Buildings. Catherine, in deep mortification, proceeded on her way. She could almost be angry herself at such angry incivility; but she checked the resentful sensation; she remembered her own ignorance. She knew not how such an offence as hers might be classed by the laws of worldly politeness, to what a degree of unforgivingness it might with propriety lead, nor to what rigours of rudeness in return it might justly make her amenable.6

Miss Tilney was denied, but a deliberate lie was told rather than the more socially acceptable ‘not at home’.

In Jane Austen’s Emma, Emma Woodhouse calls on Miss Bates. Emma’s previous visit had been awkward, and so she gives the ladies the chance to be ‘not at home’ to visitors:

The fear of being still unwelcome, determined her, though assured of their being at home, to wait in the passage, and send up her name.—She heard Patty announcing it; but no such bustle succeeded as poor Miss Bates had before made so happily intelligible.—No; she heard nothing but the instant reply of, “Beg her to walk up.”7

Mrs Parkes wrote in Domestic Duties (1825):

The economy of time, so essential to the head of a family, will also prompt certain limitations as to the times of receiving morning visits. To have every morning liable to such interruptions, must be a great impediment in the way of more important avocations, and must occasion the useless dissipation of many an hour. Experience has found this out, or the custom of denial would not have become so prevalent.8

Sometimes ladies would establish which morning or mornings they were at home to visitors.

Emma Woodhouse calls on Miss Bates by Hugh Thomson in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1896 edition
Emma Woodhouse calls on Miss Bates
by Hugh Thomson in Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen 1896 edition
How long should a morning call be?

The books of etiquette I have looked at suggest that the ‘proper’ length of a morning call was between 15 and 20 minutes.

Freeling’s advice to gentlemen in The Pocket Book of Etiquette (1837) was:

In paying visits of ceremony, do not leave your hat in the hall, take it with you into the room; and, except under particular circumstances, do not remain more than a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes.9

Trusler agreed with limiting calls to 15 or 20 minutes. In A System of Etiquette (1804) he wrote:

On paying visits of ceremony, care should be taken not to make them too long, nor too frequent; a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes, is sufficient time to exchange compliments, or run over the topics of the day; but if the visitors become congenial to each other, and intimacy succeeds, times and lengths of visits, need not be pointed out, they will direct themselves.10

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot wished to avoid her cousin, Mr Elliot. She was glad that she had promised to visit her friend Mrs Smith and would likely miss his morning call.

She [Anne] found, on reaching home, that she had, as she intended, escaped seeing Mr Elliot; that he had called and paid them a long morning visit.11

The length of Mr Elliot’s morning call indicates the level of intimacy he had with Sir Walter’s family, allowing him to exceed the recommended 20-minute limit.

Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam come to call on the ladies at the parsonage by Hugh Thomson in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1896 edition
Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam come to call
on the ladies at the parsonage
by Hugh Thomson in Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen 1896 edition
Where should you receive visitors making morning calls?

According to Mrs Parkes:

Morning visitors are generally received in the drawing-room.12

She went on to say:

In the arrangement of the drawing-room for receiving morning visitors, the chairs should be placed so as to facilitate the colloquial intercourse of the strangers, without the necessity of a servant entering the room to place them; and this arrangement, whilst it is devoid of formality, should be done with some attention to good order. Ease, not carelessness, should predominate.13

What did people talk about during a morning call?

The simple answer seems to be nothing of any importance!

Trusler advised that conversation should be limited and kept short. As quoted above:

a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes, is sufficient time to exchange compliments, or run over the topics of the day.14

In Domestic Duties (1825), Mrs Parkes’s advice was presented as conversations between a young married lady and an older lady. The young married woman in her conversations voices what must have been a common opinion of morning calls:

I have often thought that morning visits are very annoying, both to receive and to pay. They fritter away so much time, without affording any adequate return; unless, indeed, anything be gained by hearing the little nothings of the day enlarged upon, and perhaps of acquiring one's self the art of discussing them as if they were matters of deep importance.15

Mrs Parkes continued:

Morning visits should not be long. In this species of intercourse, the manners should be easy and cheerful, and the subjects of conversation such as may be easily terminated. The time proper for such visits is too short to admit of serious discussions and arguments.16

In The Ladies' Pocket Book of Etiquette (1840) Freeling advised against supplying your visitors with gossip:

Do not amuse your friends by the relation of your private affairs; recollect these can only be interesting to yourself; and although you may occasionally find a good listener who has discretion, you may depend that such affairs, if listened to with interest, will be repeated. All, however, will think your mind to be but ill stored, if you are obliged to resort to egotism for their entertainment.17

Fanny Price talks over the ball by Hugh Thomson in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 1897 edition
Fanny Price talks over the ball
by Hugh Thomson in Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen 1897 edition
What could a lady do during a morning call?

Mrs Parkes wrote that doing light needlework during a morning visit was acceptable:

It is almost unnecessary to add, that the occupations of drawing, music and reading, should be suspended on the entrance of morning visitors. But if a lady be engaged with light needlework, and none other is appropriate in the drawing-room, it promotes ease, and is not inconsistent with good breeding to continue it during conversation; particularly if the visit be protracted or the visitors be gentlemen.18

In his Ladies Pocket Book of Etiquette, Freeling wrote that all occupations should be put aside, unless you knew the visitor well:

In receiving morning visitors, it is necessary to lay aside any employment in which you may be engaged, unless indeed the visitors happen to be persons with whom you are on the most familiar terms of intimacy. You cannot do two things at once; if you attempt it, you will negligently pursue your employment, or leave undone some of those graceful lightnesses, those elegant attentions, which prevent such visits from degenerating into sombre ceremonies.19

Should you see your guests out?

Mrs Parkes was of the opinion that it was not necessary to see your guests out:

It was formerly the custom to see visitors to the door on taking leave; but this is now discontinued. The lady of the house merely rises from her seat, shakes hands or courtesies, according as her intimacy is with the parties, and then ringing the bell to summon a servant to attend them, leaves them to find their way out of the house.20

In The Pocket Book of Etiquette for gentlemen, Freeling suggested that seeing a guest out gave them a special distinction:

When any visitor leaves the room, ring the bell for a servant to be in attendance and open the street door; but if you wish to shew any person particular attention, and are not occupied with other company, it would be a great mark of deference for you to attend him half way down the stairs, after having secured the attendance of your servant at the door; this would of course only be done in extreme cases, and when you had a special desire to shew your high esteem for your visitor.21

Morning dress  Ackermann's Repository (May 1816)
Morning dress
 Ackermann's Repository (May 1816)
Returning visits

Etiquette demanded that morning calls were returned. It was polite to return the call as soon as possible.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennet calls on Caroline Bingley in London. Miss Bingley slighted Jane by leaving it a fortnight before returning her visit:

Caroline did not return my visit till yesterday; and not a note, not a line, did I receive in the meantime. When she did come, it was very evident that she had no pleasure in it; she made a slight, formal apology, for not calling before, said not a word of wishing to see me again, and was in every respect so altered a creature, that when she went away I was perfectly resolved to continue the acquaintance no longer.22

Visiting new neighbours in the country

When a gentleman took a house in the country, it was customary for the neighbouring gentry to visit them. It was polite for the new gentleman to return the visit as soon as possible if he wished to pursue the acquaintance. If he did not wish for the acquaintance, he should still send his card.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet urges her husband to visit Mr Bingley when he first takes Netherfield. Mr Bennet teases his wife, saying he does not intend to go:

“But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you do not.”

“I am sick of Mr Bingley,” cried his wife.
“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me so before? If I had known as much this morning, I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”23

Taking leave

It was customary to visit or send a calling card to take leave of your friends before going out of an area.

In Jane Austen’s Emma, Frank Churchill is called away from Highbury:

Mrs Weston added, “that he [Frank Churchill] could only allow himself time to hurry to Highbury, after breakfast, and take leave of the few friends there whom he could suppose to feel any interest in him; and that he might be expected at Hartfield very soon.”24

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Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian Regency era romance and historical non-fiction. 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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Notes

  1. Parkes, Mrs William, Domestic Duties or Instructions to young married ladies on the management of their households (London, 1825).
  2. Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (Liverpool, 1837).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Austen, Jane, Jane Austen's Letters, Collected and Edited by Le Faye, Deirdre (1995).
  5. Trusler, Rev Dr John, A System of Etiquette (1804).
  6. Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817).
  7. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815).
  8. Parkes op cit.
  9. Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (Liverpool, 1837).
  10. Trusler op cit.
  11. Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817).
  12. Parkes op cit.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Trusler op cit.
  15. Parkes op cit.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Freeling, Arthur, The Ladies' Pocket Book of Etiquette (7th edition) (London, 1840).
  18. Parkes op cit.
  19. Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (Liverpool, 1837).
  20. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).
  21. Ibid.
  22. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815).
Sources used include:
Austen, Jane, Emma (1815, London)
Austen, Jane, Jane Austen's Letters, Collected and Edited by Le Faye, Deirdre (Oxford University Press, 1995)
Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814, London)
Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817, London)
Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817, London)
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813, London)
Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811, London)
Freeling, Arthur, The Ladies' Pocket Book of Etiquette (7th edition) (London, 1840)
Freeling, Arthur, The Pocket Book of Etiquette (Liverpool, 1837)
Parkes, Mrs William, Domestic Duties or Instructions to young married ladies on the management of their households (London, 1825)
Trusler, Rev Dr John, A System of Etiquette (1804)

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't realized that Mrs. Parkes had so much to say about such things as morning calls. Trusler was 18th century-- not that that makes him out of date, or anything- Most of the etiquette books seem to have been addressed to men until the Victorian age when women started writing them and there were rules for women .Mrs. Parkes book on household management, or the book Regency Etiquette that deals more with deportment than what we call etiquette seem to be what was available for women. Have you found any etiquette books for women that originated inthe early years of the 19th century and were concerned with manners and not deportment, morals, or Christian Principles?

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