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On Going To A Party
by [?]

Although I usually enjoy a party when I have arrived, I seldom anticipate it with pleasure. I remain sour until I have hung my hat. I suspect that my disorder is general and that if any group of formal diners could be caught in preparation midway between their tub and over-shoes, they would be found a peevish company who might be expected to snap at one another. Yet look now at their smiling faces! With what zest they crunch their food! How cheerfully they clatter on their plates! Who would suspect that yonder smiling fellow who strokes his silky chin was sullen when he fixed his tie; or that this pleasant babble comes out of mouths that lately sulked before their mirrors?

I am not sure from what cause my own crustiness proceeds. I am of no essential unsociability. Nor is it wholly the masquerade of unaccustomed clothes. I am deft with a bow-knot and patient with my collar. It may be partly a perversity of sex, inasmuch as we men are sometimes “taken” by our women folk. But chiefly it comes from an unwillingness to pledge the future, lest on the very night my own hearth appear the better choice. Here we are, with legs stretched for comfort toward the fire–easy and unbuttoned. Let the rain beat on the glass! Let chimneys topple! Let the wind whistle to its shrill companions of the North! But although I am led growling and reluctant to my host’s door–with stiffened paws, as it were, against the sill–I usually enjoy myself when I am once inside. To see me across the salad smiling at my pretty neighbor, no one would know how churlish I had been on the coming of the invitation.

I have attended my share of formal dinners. I have dined with the magnificent H—-s and their Roman Senator has announced me at the door; although, when he asked my name in the hall, I thought at first in my ignorance that he gave me directions about my rubbers. No one has faced more forks and knives, or has apportioned his implements with nicer discrimination among the meats. Not once have I been forced to stir my after-dinner coffee with a soup spoon. And yet I look back on these grand occasions with contentment chiefly because they are past. I am in whole agreement with Cleopatra when she spoke slightingly of her salad days–surely a fashionable afternoon affair at a castle on the river Nile–when, as she confessed, she was young and green in judgment.

It is usually a pleasure to meet distinguished persons who, as a rule, are friendly folk who sit in peace and comfort. But if they are lugged in and set up stiffly at a formal dinner they are too much an exhibition. In this circumstance they cannot be natural and at their best. And then I wonder how they endure our abject deference and flabby surrender to their opinions. Would it not destroy all interest in a game of bowling if the wretched pins fell down before the hit were made? It was lately at a dinner that our hostess held in captivity three of these celebrated lions. One of them was a famous traveler who had taken a tiger by its bristling beard. The second was a popular lecturer. The third was in distemper and crouched quietly at her plate. The first two are sharp and bright and they roared to expectation. But I do not complain when lions take possession of the cage, for it reduces the general liability of talk, and a common man, if he be industrious, may pluck his bird down to the bone in peace.

A formal reception is even worse than a dinner. One stands around with stalled machinery. Good stout legs, that can go at a trot all day, become now weak and wabbly. One hurdles dispiritedly over trailing skirts. One tries in conversation to think of the name of a play he has just seen, but it escapes him. It is, however, so nearly in his grasp, that it prevents him from turning to another topic. Benson, the essayist, also disliked formal receptions and he quotes Prince Hal in their dispraise. “Prithee, Ned,” says the Prince–and I fancy that he has just led a thirsty Duchess to the punchbowl, and was now in the very act of escaping while her face was buried in the cup–“Prithee, Ned,” he says, “come out of this fat room, and lend me thy hand to laugh a little!” And we can imagine these two enfranchised rogues, easy at heart, making off later to their Eastcheap tavern, and the passing of a friendly cup. But now, alas, today, all of the rooms of the house are fat and thick with people. There is a confusion of tongues as when work on the tower of Babel was broken off. There is no escape. If it were one’s good luck to be a waiter, one could at least console himself that it was his livelihood.