Emilie’s Tea-time Etiquette

Greetings! How are preparations coming for your Emilie Loring tea this Saturday?

I have pulled out some crystal bud vases and a few glass dishes, but I have yet to decide on linens. I’m quite sure my tea will be indoors. We have high-90s and high humidity here this week; I’ll be happy to enjoy my tea with the benefit of air conditioning!

Grandma's china
Grandma’s china

I debated whether to use my Japanese tea set or my grandmother’s china but decided on Grandma’s.  It’s pretty old, so I hope it doesn’t crack like Emilie’s! As the story goes, the handle of one of her teacups broke, and hot tea spilled on her friend Mary’s new gown from London.

Of course, all were chagrined, and Emilie’s husband offered right away to buy Mary a new gown. But Mary’s husband, Ben, was already put out with Victor over a land deal, and he refused in a huff:

“You will do no such thing. I can well afford to buy gowns for Mary. But in the future I shall see to it that my wife does not frequent homes where guests are given cracked cups.”  Deep Roots

Hint to all: Inspect your tea cups — and friendships — for cracks!

Afternoon tea was one of Emilie Loring’s favorite social occasions. I imagine her with well-developed skills, both for pouring tea and for engaging her guests in congenial conversation.

“Tea, Greg? Do you also depend on the cup that cheers to recharge your mental battery every afternoon at four?”  When Hearts Are Light Again


I came across a charming book on nineteenth-century etiquette, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Florence HartleyThe title page promises:

“full directions for correct manners, dress, deportment, and conversation; rules for the duties of both hostess and guest in morning receptions, dinner companies, visiting, evening parties and balls; a complete guide for letter writing and cards of compliment; hints on managing servants on the preservation of health, and on accomplishments… and also… useful receipts for the complexion, hair, and with hints and directions for the care of the wardrobe.”


Well! That’s quite a list!  What came next, however, secured my attention:

Lee & Shepard

1872.  Emilie was nearly six years old when her father’s company published its edition of Miss Hartley’s book, and her older sister, Rachel, was fourteen. A quick read shows that these are the manners on which the girls were raised–albeit with variations of style–the same that Emilie adapted for the twentieth-century and wove into her thirty novels.

“If you can succeed in teaching that child even the rudiments of courtesy you will be helping her immeasurably. After honor, good manners are the greatest asset a young person can have, young or old for that matter.”  Where Beauty Dwells

George G Evans shop
G. G. Evans book shop

It’s not clear who the author “Florence Hartley” may have been. Her first publisher, George G. Evans of Philadelphia, brought out The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness in the same year, 1859, attributed to “Cecil B. Hartley.” The number of books attributed to Cecil in a single year strains credulity, and there is no record of Cecil or Florence in public records.

Florence Hartley etiquette
Modern edition

The Hartleys may well have been pen names for G. G. Evans’ staff writers, but whoever they were, their etiquette books have survived and thrived, from one century to the next.

Like Emilie Loring’s books, they were written for a contemporary audience, for a time gone by, yet there is much that still applies.

“True politeness is the language of a good heart, and those possessing that heart will never, under any circumstances, be rude.”

“The way to make yourself pleasing to others, is to show that you care for them… Thus the first rule for a graceful manner is unselfish consideration of others.”

“The art of conversation consists in the exercise of two fine qualities. You must originate, and you must sympathize; you must possess at the same time the habit of communicating and of listening attentively. The union is rare but irresistible.”

Tea on Owen Terrace
“Show that you care for them.”

“At breakfast or tea, if your seat is at the head of the table, you must, before taking anything upon your own plate, fill a cup for each one of the family, and pass them round, being careful to suit each one in the preparation of the cup, that none may return to you for more tea, water, sugar, or milk.”

“If you occupy the place of head of the table, you must watch the cups, offer to fill them when empty, and also see that each one of the family is well helped to the other articles upon the table.”

Enjoy preparations for our tea, and remember to send in your photos and stories. I’ll be collecting and posting them all day.


Tea infuser

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