Social entertaining reached an apogee during the Old Regime

September 24, 2012

Why should I not stop here for a few minutes to describe some the features of the Paris of those days?

The pack of cards, painted by Arturo Ricci

People dined at two o’clock and supped at ten. Dinners were grand, formal affairs; suppers informal parties of pleasure. They supped after the theatre, which began between five and six and finished between eight and nine. After supper, they played cards, and a  hostess required no small skill in assorting the partners. But a few women, a few wits, and some of the young people did not play, or if they did, played but a hasty game of reversis. Gaming, conversation and laughter often prolonged a gathering until two in the morning. Pleasure was people’s only occupation. They rose late. I saw the inauguration of the fashion of not taking supper. Guests remained in the drawing-room, and the expression “I do not sup” was equivalent to saying “I dine late.” It was a proof of good manners always to do the same things later than other people…

Jakob Rousseau “Masked Ball in the Hoftheater, Bonn”, 1754.

Theatre-going was not, as in Italy and in part of Germany an obligatory evening occupation. There were many agreeable houses where hostesses received either constantly or on fixed days. And what superior talent they showed—talent all the greater as it was less apparent! To captivate their guests—to direct, prolong, resume, or abridge a conversation—to have a look and a word for everyone, to introduce a third person into a familiar chat by means of a glance or a word, to put him or her into relations with others, to make them known without either mention of names or an introduction—what a charming, delicate art!

Arthur Chuquet, ed., Recollections of Baron de Frénilly, Peer of France (1768-1828) (London: William Heinemann, 1909), pp. 19-20.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 215



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