Story type: Essay
We all suffer more or less from the perennial “freshness” of certain acquaintances–tiresome people whom a misguided Providence has endowed with over-flowing vitality and an irrepressible love of their fellowmen, and who, not content with looking on life as a continual “spree,” insist on making others happy in spite of themselves. Their name is legion and their presence ubiquitous, but they rarely annoy as much as when disguised under the mask of the “Introducer.” In his clutches one is helpless. It is impossible to escape from such philanthropic tyranny. He, in his freshness, imagines that to present human beings to each other is his mission in this world and moves through life making these platonic unions, oblivious, as are other match-makers, of the misery he creates.
If you are out for a quiet stroll, one of these genial gentlemen is sure to come bounding up, and without notice or warning present you to his “friend,”–the greater part of the time a man he has met only an hour before, but whom he endows out of the warehouse of his generous imagination with several talents and all the virtues. In order to make the situation just one shade more uncomfortable, this kindly bore proceeds to sing a hymn of praise concerning both of you to your faces, adding, in order that you may both feel quite friendly and pleasant:
“I know you two will fancy each other, you are so alike,”–a phrase neatly calculated to nip any conversation in the bud. You detest the unoffending stranger on the spot and would like to kill the bore. Not to appear an absolute brute you struggle through some commonplace phrases, discovering the while that your new acquaintance is no more anxious to know you, than you are to meet him; that he has not the slightest idea who you are, neither does he desire to find out. He classes you with the bore, and his one idea, like your own, is to escape. So that the only result of the Introducer’s good-natured interference has been to make two fellow-creatures miserable.
A friend was telling me the other day of the martyrdom he had suffered from this class. He spoke with much feeling, as he is the soul of amiability, but somewhat short-sighted and afflicted with a hopelessly bad memory for faces. For the last few years, he has been in the habit of spending one or two of the winter months in Washington, where his friends put him up at one club or another. Each winter on his first appearance at one of these clubs, some kindly disposed old fogy is sure to present him to a circle of the members, and he finds himself indiscriminately shaking hands with Judges and Colonels. As little or no conversation follows these introductions to fix the individuality of the members in his mind, he unconsciously cuts two-thirds of his newly acquired circle the next afternoon, and the following winter, after a ten- months’ absence, he innocently ignores the other third. So hopelessly has he offended in this way, that last season, on being presented to a club member, the latter peevishly blurted out:
“This is the fourth time I have been introduced to Mr. Blank, but he never remembers me,” and glared coldly at him, laying it all down to my friend’s snobbishness and to the airs of a New Yorker when away from home. If instead of being sacrificed to the introducer’s mistaken zeal my poor friend had been left quietly to himself, he would in good time have met the people congenial to him and avoided giving offence to a number of kindly gentlemen.
This introducing mania takes an even more aggressive form in the hostess, who imagines that she is lacking in hospitality if any two people in her drawing-room are not made known to each other. No matter how interested you may be in a chat with a friend, you will see her bearing down upon you, bringing in tow the one human being you have carefully avoided for years. Escape seems impossible, but as a forlorn hope you fling yourself into conversation with your nearest neighbor, trying by your absorbed manner to ward off the calamity. In vain! With a tap on your elbow your smiling hostess introduces you and, having spoiled your afternoon, flits off in search of other prey.
The question of introductions is one on which it is impossible to lay down any fixed rules. There must constantly occur situations where one’s acts must depend upon a kindly consideration for other people’s feelings, which after all, is only another name for tact. Nothing so plainly shows the breeding of a man or woman as skill in solving problems of this kind without giving offence.
Foreigners, with their greater knowledge of the world, rarely fall into the error of indiscriminate introducing, appreciating what a presentation means and what obligations it entails. The English fall into exactly the contrary error from ours, and carry it to absurd lengths. Starting with the assumption that everybody knows everybody, and being aware of the general dread of meeting “detrimentals,” they avoid the difficulty by making no introductions. This may work well among themselves, but it is trying to a stranger whom they have been good enough to ask to their tables, to sit out the meal between two people who ignore his presence and converse across him; for an Englishman will expire sooner than speak to a person to whom he has not been introduced.
The French, with the marvellous tact that has for centuries made them the law-givers on all subjects of etiquette and breeding, have another way of avoiding useless introductions. They assume that two people meeting in a drawing-room belong to the same world and so chat pleasantly with those around them. On leaving the salon the acquaintance is supposed to end, and a gentleman who should at another time or place bow or speak to the lady who had offered him a cup of tea and talked pleasantly to him over it at a friend’s reception, would commit a gross breach of etiquette.
I was once present at a large dinner given in Cologne to the American Geographical Society. No sooner was I seated than my two neighbors turned towards me mentioning their names and waiting for me to do the same. After that the conversation flowed on as among friends. This custom struck me as exceedingly well-bred and calculated to make a foreigner feel at his ease.
Among other curious types, there are people so constituted that they are unhappy if a single person can be found in the room to whom they have not been introduced. It does not matter who the stranger may be or what chance there is of finding him congenial. They must be presented; nothing else will content them. If you are chatting with a friend you feel a pull at your sleeve, and in an audible aside, they ask for an introduction. The aspirant will then bring up and present the members of his family who happen to be near. After that he seems to be at ease, and having absolutely nothing to say will soon drift off. Our public men suffer terribly from promiscuous introductions; it is a part of a political career; a good memory for names and faces and a cordial manner under fire have often gone a long way in floating a statesman on to success.
Demand, we are told, creates supply. During a short stay in a Florida hotel last winter, I noticed a curious little man who looked like a cross between a waiter and a musician. As he spoke to me several times and seemed very officious, I asked who he was. The answer was so grotesque that I could not believe my ears. I was told that he held the position of official “introducer,” or master of ceremonies, and that the guests under his guidance became known to each other, danced, rode, and married to their own and doubtless to his satisfaction. The further west one goes the more pronounced this mania becomes. Everybody is introduced to everybody on all imaginable occasions. If a man asks you to take a drink, he presents you to the bar-tender. If he takes you for a drive, the cab-driver is introduced. “Boots” makes you acquainted with the chambermaid, and the hotel proprietor unites you in the bonds of friendship with the clerk at the desk. Intercourse with one’s fellows becomes one long debauch of introduction. In this country where every liberty is respected, it is a curious fact that we should be denied the most important of all rights, that of choosing our acquaintances.