Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Selected Letters: To her Niece
By Abigail Adams (1744–1818)
LONDON, April 2nd, 1786.    
My Dear Betsey:
I BELIEVE I once promised to give you an account of that kind of visiting called a ladies’ rout. There are two kinds; one where a lady sets apart a particular day in the week to see company. These are held only five months in the year, it being quite out of fashion to be seen in London during the summer. When a lady returns from the country she goes round and leaves a card with all her acquaintance, and then sends them an invitation to attend her routs during the season. The other kind is where a lady sends to you for certain evenings, and the cards are always addressed in her own name, both to gentlemen and ladies. The rooms are all set open, and card tables set in each room, the lady of the house receiving her company at the door of the drawing-room, where a set number of courtesies are given and received, with as much order as is necessary for a soldier who goes through the different evolutions of his exercise. The visitor then proceeds into the room without appearing to notice any other person, and takes her seat at the card table.
  “Nor can the muse her aid impart,
Unskilled in all the terms of art,
Nor in harmonious numbers put
The deal, the shuffle, and the cut.
Go, Tom, and light the ladies up,
It must be one before we sup.”
  At these parties it is usual for each lady to play a rubber, as it is termed, when you must lose or win a few guineas. To give each a fair chance, the lady then rises and gives her seat to another set. It is no unusual thing to have your rooms so crowded that not more than half the company can sit at once, yet this is called society and polite life. They treat their company with coffee, tea, lemonade, orgeat, and cake. I know of but one agreeable circumstance attending these parties, which is, that you may go away when you please without disturbing anybody. I was early in the winter invited to Madame de Pinto’s, the Portuguese Minister’s. I went accordingly. There were about two hundred persons present. I knew not a single lady but by sight, having met them at Court; and it is an established rule, though you were to meet as often as three nights in the week, never to speak together, or know each other unless particularly introduced. I was, however, at no loss for conversation, Madame de Pinto being very polite, and the foreign ministers being the most of them present, who had dined with us, and to whom I had been early introduced. It being Sunday evening, I declined playing cards; indeed, I always get excused when I can. And Heaven forbid I should
  “Catch the manners living as they rise.”
  Yet I must submit to a party or two of this kind. Having attended several, I must return the compliment in the same way. Yesterday we dined at Mrs. Paradice’s. I refer you to Mr. Storer for an account of this family. Mr. Jefferson, Colonel Smith, the Prussian and Venetian ministers, were of the company, and several other persons who were strangers. At eight o’clock we returned home in order to dress ourselves for the ball at the French Ambassador’s, to which we had received an invitation a fortnight before. He has been absent ever since our arrival here, till three weeks ago. He has a levee every Sunday evening, at which there are usually several hundred persons. The Hotel de France is beautifully situated, fronting St. James’s Park, one end of the house standing upon Hyde Park. It is a most superb building. About half-past nine we went, and found some company collected. Many very brilliant ladies of the first distinction were present. The dancing commenced about ten, and the rooms soon filled. The room which he had built for this purpose is large enough for five or six hundred persons. It is most elegantly decorated, hung with a gold tissue, ornamented with twelve brilliant cut lustres, each containing twenty-four candles. At one end there are two large arches; these were adorned with wreaths and bunches of artificial flowers upon the walls; in the alcoves were cornucopiæ loaded with oranges, sweetmeats, and other trifles. Coffee, tea, lemonade, orgeat, and so forth, were taken here by every person who chose to go for them. There were covered seats all around the room for those who chose to dance. In the other rooms, card tables, and a large faro table, were set; this is a new kind of game, which is much practiced here. Many of the company who did not dance retired here to amuse themselves. The whole style of the house and furniture is such as becomes the ambassador from one of the first monarchies in Europe. He had twenty thousand guineas allowed him in the first instance to furnish his house, and an annual salary of ten thousand more. He has agreeably blended the magnificence and splendor of France with the neatness and elegance of England. Your cousin had unfortunately taken a cold a few days before, and was very unfit to go out. She appeared so unwell that about one we retired without staying for supper, the sight of which only I regretted, as it was, in style, no doubt, superior to anything I have seen. The Prince of Wales came about eleven o’clock. Mrs. Fitzherbert was also present, but I could not distinguish her. But who is this lady? methinks I hear you say. She is a lady to whom, against the laws of the realm, the Prince of Wales is privately married, as is universally believed. She appears with him in all public parties, and he avows his marriage wherever he dares. They have been the topic of conversation in all companies for a long time, and it is now said that a young George may be expected in the course of the summer. She was a widow of about thirty-two years of age, whom he a long time persecuted in order to get her upon his own terms; but finding he could not succeed, he quieted her conscience by matrimony, which, however valid in the eye of heaven, is set aside by the laws of the land, which forbids a prince of the blood to marry a subject. As to dresses, I believe I must leave them to be described to your sister. I am sorry I have nothing better to send you than a sash and a Vandyke ribbon. The narrow is to put round the edge of a hat, or you may trim whatever you please with it.  3

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