Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Left or Right? - Part 3 (Final)

To judge from the eagerness with which our correspondents pursue this point, we are induced to believe that it is one of national importance, probably not less urgent than the questions that have now occupied the attention of five or six hundred gentlemen for five nights. Indeed that this is a legitimate conclusion we have a more ancient authority than "Ambidexter," or "Hafiz," or "A Constant Reader." Louis le Grand, when told that something or other was only a ceremony, asked, "And is not the monarchy itself a ceremony?"

Having thus admitted the dignity of the subject, we proceed to such a grave consideration of it as may have the effect of setting all future doubts at rest. When a modest and discreet Alumnus of the University of Cambridge originally, and with befitting deference, referred this matter to our decision, we did not hesitate to give an opinion that ought to have been decisive. But the inconvenient modern practice, of setting up private judgement against decisions pronounced ex cathedru, induced a correspondent, calling himself "Ambidexter," to question our judgement. He availed himself  - dexterously we grant - of the fantastic tricks of certain architects in the construction of dwelling-houses to show that in particular cases our rule did not apply. He instanced the somewhat apocryphal existence of such modes of communication as passages, and the rare occurrence of central stairs, to prove that it was not always possible to give the wall to a lady. In the answer we gave to the plain question of our original correspondent we did not feel it necessary to lay down a code that should embrace every imaginable contingency; but, as the subject has since been mooted by two other writers, we will not shrink from the enunciation of a general rule. The following are the letters to which we refer :-

"Sire - Having seen in your valuable paper two articles respecting the custom of handing a lady from the drawing-room into the dining-room, I beg to offer my opinion, that when a gentleman hands a lady down stairs from the drawing-room he should, in ordinary staircases, always give her the wall; and if, as your correspondent "Ambidexter," in this day's Post, says, there is a central staircase, with a baluster on both sides, the lady should always in that case have the side of the baluster where the step is the broadest, whether it be right or left it matters not. In handing a lady from one room to the other it is the custom always to give the lady the right arm. - I beg to remain, Sir, your very obedient humble servant,
"May 7.                "A CONSTANT READER."

"Sir - It seems to me strange that, in an enlightened country like England, the inhabitants of which has possessions in all quarters of the globe, and travel so much in foreign countries, there should be any ignorance as to the point of etiquette mentioned in your paper, and remarked upon by 'Ambidexter,' viz., which hand should be given to a lady to lead her out of a room. In all countries - in England as well as elsewhere (although here it seems to be unknown by some) - the place at the right hand is the place of honour, and the right hand is always given in matters of ceremony. This point is so clear that it requires no more to be said regarding it. - I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

We have already disposed of the matter in the case of a staircase having a wall on one side and a balustrade on the other. A central stair forming the continuous and unbroken communication between the receiving rooms and the hall is scarcely to be met with; it is commonly only the lower flight of stairs that is central. In such a case ladies and gentlemen will have taken their relative positions before they arrive at the state, and would not, or course, change them in mid-career. If there should be a central stair of one flight, or with no part of it approximating to a wall, or if so great solecism as a passage should be met with, then the gentlemen give his left arm to the lady. "A Constant Reader" and "Hafiz" will doubtless be shocked at this regulation; but there are reasons for it that we think irrefragable.

All points of ceremony have their origin in bygone times - in the age of chivalry or in that courtly etiquette which succeeded. Now, when a gentleman offers his arm to a lady he does so in the quality of protector; and as, in both the periods referred to, every gentleman wore a sword, he was bound, in common sense, to keep his sword-arm disengaged. It is true that we do not now wear swords - the more's the pity; neither do we carry shields - except on our seals, our plate, or our carriages. But, even in these instances, we conform to the custom established when shields were worn, and depict our coast of arms on them. And this practice is another of our reasons for the rule we have laid down. In armorial bearings those of the gentlemen occupy the dexter, or right, side of the shield, and those of the lady the sinister, or left; and the position of the cognizances must be taken to represent the relative situation of the persons entitled to display them. A third reason is one to which we are satisfied no objection can be taken by any man of gallantry. We can confer no higher distinction on a lady than placing her next our heart: - 
"Woman was not taken from man's head, that she might govern,
"Nor from under his foot, that she might be trampled on;
"But from beneath his arm, that she might be protected;
"And from near his heart, that she might be beloved."
Therefore we ought to offer her our left arm - Q.E.D.

Source: The Morning Post, Saturday May 15 1841, Page 6, Issue 21943

No comments:

Post a Comment