Impressing the Neighbours, Georgian style
It was customary to pay a brief call on neighbours or a new acquaintance in the Georgian era and a rigorous system of etiquette shaped these occasions. Upon arriving in the neighbourhood, calling cards were essential for any well-bred gentleman or lady. Typically in town, a potential visitor might remain in her carriage as her card was presented to the lady of the house, who would then consider whether to admit her. A corresponding card might have been issued in return, otherwise it was a signal that the acquaintance would not progress.
A green-tooled Moroccan leather calling card case. The surviving card conveys the details of a Mr Mortimer Rooke of Chippenham
'At Home Days' was the term given to when these calls should be made, and it was respectable to return calls to visitors and neighbours who had left cards. For the wealthy, cards were displayed on a silver platter in the hall, with the most impressive names and their reason for calling folded upright and left on display.
In 'Pride and Prejudice', Mr. Bennet must call upon Mr. Bingley so that the families can start to develop an acquaintance. The Bennet ladies wait impatiently for their father to relate the details of Bingley’s elegant household. The visit must be reciprocated before they can visit Netherfield and this time also call on the ladies of the household.
A portrait of Frances Burney by Edward Burney (1782)
Occasional Bath resident Francis Burney, whose novels influenced Austen, wrote how “this perpetual round of constrained civilities... is most provoking.” However, she and her fellow Georgians understood the true value these visits held.
In a genteel society, visiting others and having them visit in return, was a key part of establishing how well-accomplished or travelled you were. It became fashionable to have a cabinet of curios from a Grand Tour or full of fossils from Lyme Regis. Furniture makers and gallery owners would loan out objects to high profile clients such as the Byron family when they took a house for the season, in order to raise their profile and the likelihood of further commissions. Mr. Bingley, only a tenant of Netherfield, would have made use of these services in his desire to demonstrate to visitors that his establishment was one of impeccable taste and respectability.
A Queen Anne corner curio display cabinet. This would have stood in the corner of a library or drawing room, with visitors invited to study the objects displayed inside
Both the people and the objects of interest assembled in these rooms during fashionable visiting hours provided conversation, entertainment and the opportunity to meet new acquaintances and renew friendships.
The opportunity to share our own homes and new mementos of trips out is something we are also looking forward to in the months ahead.