18 FEBRUARY 1888, Page 11


APARAGRAPH-WRITER in the St. James's Gazelle of Monday adds one more to the many attacks which social satirists are always making upon the system of afternoon calls. He says that in Boston they have invented a new profession, that of the " lady-caller," a cultivated and presentable woman, nicely dressed, who takes a salary for distributing cards for fashionable folk, and, as we presume from the accomplishments demanded of her, even occasionally makes actual calls instead of the lady who employs her, and who, by a social fiction, is supposed to be calling. The story may be only a joke, as a servant could distribute the cards, or may be only a misconcep- tion of a device forced upon ladies in Boston by their difficulty in obtaining servants who can do anything intelligently and well—there are, we fancy, no footmen in Boston, or servants who can be spared—or it may be simply true ; but in either case it is told to bring more ridicule upon the practice of calling. A sub- stitute or an automaton, it is implied, could do it just as well. We do not quite see the sense or the humour of that ridicule. If a lady wishes to see her friends and chat with them without formality, what can she do but call ? and naturally she chooses for calling the time when she and her friend have the most leisure to tall- to one another. There is work to be done in the morning, there are the men of the house to talk to in the evening, or dinners to give, or parties or theatres or concerts to attend; and the afternoon is the only convenient or unoccupied time left. It has, therefore, become a custom with women to call in the afternoon, and they benefit by it as much as by any other innocent recreation. They make and keep their friends that way; and friendships, even the friendships which may be called the friendships of the tongue, the binding link being chiefly a wish to interchange thoughts, are among the most valuable things in life. Nothing is so fatal to friendship as want of intimacy, and long absences kill intimacy, especially absences under circumstances which make, or seem to make, constant correspondence a little ridiculous or tiresome. Ken- sington is to the carriageless dwellers, say, about Russell Square, as distant as Dorking ; but while Dorking will write to London, Russell Square thinks it almost foolish to write frequently to Kensington. The imaginary nearness stops the flow of the pen. Grant that sometimes the conversation degenerates, like that of a club, into gossip, or that it is devoted to trivialities, still the caller hears of her friends, keeps up, more or less, her knowledge of their affairs, hears the tattle of the day and the news, and returns home mentally amused, and with her spirits refreshed. A call may be dull enough, but it may also be entertaining, or even exciting ; and in any case it is better for the mind than a monotonous solitude or a too frequently repeated family chat every day. There is life in it, and movement, and social intercourse ; and a drive or walk to a friend's house is just as beneficial as a drive or walk anywhere else, perhaps better, for women, like men, are apt to be bored to death, and therefore into fretfulness, by con- stitutionals undertaken for the sake of health alone. There is no such fatigue, to many minds, as a purposeless stroll between lines of houses. Where no one is seen, and cards are only left, the benefit is, of course, less ; and an afternoon spent in drop- ping pasteboard about certainly seems a little wasted ; but still, there is the drive or walk, and every card dropped is a reminder that friends exist, and that they may be called on. They are only acquaintances ? Well, but acquaintances are to friends what the reservoir is to the water that quenches thirst. Sending cards is, of course, an absurdity, for they could be delivered through the post more easily, more certainly, and at less expense ; but we fancy the practice is an accident, one of those habits of imitation which grow up in an over-large society. A few ladies, overpressed by a multitude of acquaint- ances, began to drop cards on their less intimate friends en route to other friends ; and then everybody did it, just to show that they were not less over-supplied with acquaintances than the rest. There is no harm in the practice, nor does a meaningless civility enjoined by custom always indicate the absence either of sense or of affection. Half our civilities have little meaning

if they are criticised, but the extinction of ceremonial only improves the most intimate society.

Men of the middle class, and especially men of middle age, have been compelled by the demands of their working-life to " emancipate" themselves from calling, and have not gained half so much by their emancipation as they think. They have "pro- tected their time," no doubt ; but they see the cultivated women among their friends much seldomer, they lose the art of chatting pleasantly on trifles—a good art, if too much time is not wasted on it—and they lose, also, one more occasion a week of beneficial self-restraint. They are never amused with talk except at a party, and are thrown too exclusively upon single circles, which they thoroughly know already, for social entertainment. There is no help for it, of course. Most men of the classes we are speaking of have too much to do to waste any afternoon but Sunday, are bound to stay in office, or, for one of a hundred reasons, cannot afford the time. The remainder do not like to be supposed idle, or do not care for light talk, or find a round of visits without result an infinite bore, and so the custom has for men dropped through, as all customs drop at last which are genuinely inconvenient. They say they are glad, but as a result they see their male intimates far seldomer than was once the case. We know of few social facts more melancholy than the difficulty which two occupied men who are attached to one another, but do not frequent the same circles or use the same club, find in meeting frequently. The English do not break- fast with one another, they hardly, when occupied, eat lunch, they rarely dine together frequently enough to keep up in- timacy, and evening calls are often irksome, or are interruptions- Unless they arrange to meet at stated times, which is by far the best plan, life always arranging itself to suit fixed habits, they, if they live in London, rarely meet, and seem as separated as if kingdoms divided them,—indeed, more so, for if the kingdoms were there, they would recognise a reason for correspondence. Calling at an office is as difficult as calling at a house, and the leisure of the one called upon is as uncertain, the total result being that men-friends, whose faces are a pleasure to each other, and who, when they come together, wake up in each other a new life and energy, see each other twice a year. How often does one hear,—" Oh, yes ! he is a great ally of mine ; a most excellent fellow, but somehow we never meet nowa- days "1 If friendship is worth having at all, surely that must be a loss ; yet it is one which is endured in London by at least one- half of the cultivated population above thirty-five. Boys see one another pretty constantly, because they use their evenings to associate ; but married men often meet so seldom, that when they do come together, they view their friends for a moment with a slight surprise, and recognise distinct changes, usually for the worse, since they last met. Their friendship does not die away always, but they lose the habit of one another, are ignorant of the incidents of each other's lives, and fall by degrees out of the sympathy of thoughts and interests which, though it does not make friendship, contributes so much to its value as a sweetener of life. The evil is not so great in the country, because there is more time, and out-of-door pursuits bring men together, and because, too, the necessity of " some one to speak to " makes men take more trouble to see each other's faces; but in London it has reached a point which seriously affects and impairs the amenity of life. Warrington and Pendennis, married and settled in different districts of town, would have had to ask their wives for informa-

tion about each other, and have begun the next conversation with,—" You're getting fat." It has become as difficult to culti-

vate a pleasant acquaintance, unless he happens to belong to the same club, as to pursue a new study ; and your first thought about the man who attracts you is,—" We shall not meet for

months, if ever." We cannot but think that the women have

avoided this immense loss in life with a great deal of social cleverness, and that their much-despised custom of calling pro-

tects for them a very great social pleasure which the men of necessity are compelled to sacrifice. They would only increase an artificial loneliness which they now escape, by using the

Boston device,—if, indeed, the " lady-caller " is anything but a substitute for the postman, suggested by a fine-lady's momentary whim.