To Mrs Vicary, the joy of tea parties

Mrs Martha Hankey

My Dear Elinor,
I am writing to say that I have recently, and belatedly I must admit, discovered the joy of tea parties. In this particularly dreadful weather, and when our gentlemen folk are out gambling, drinking, playing cards, discussing Captain Swing or in any case are otherwise disposed, the pleasure of gathering together old and new female friends for tea is exquisite. I cannot wait for you to join us, since your presence will make our afternoons sparkle more.
In a manner of speaking, the inclement weather outside only adds to the cosiness and cordiality which can be found when we gather round a warm fire, sip delicious tea newly provided by the East India Company and naughtily partake of such perfect little cakes as Mrs Simpson, our cook, has provided. I have now made some new friends here, although I can assure you, no one will ever take your place. But these are some of the people who wait to be introduced to you: there is Lady Ponsonby, lately arrived from Knightsbridge who has hired a house on the other side of the square for the season; Mrs Lucinda Prescott of Highgate, who is here with her rather flighty daughters ( I do hope my dear Martha does not frequent their company for I feel theirs would be a bad influence); Mrs Elizabeth Denton from Chelsea and her daughter Sarah who I have invited for Martha, since she is so sensible; Mrs Jane Pope from Hove, (who has walked with a stick from a very early age apparently) and finally that flibbertigibbet Julia Chowden, whom I believe you know! We will talk of her another time.
I must say that I find Lady Ponsonby, who was after all until recently only Caroline Peasebody, a little tiresome for she certainly has some elevated ideas about herself. She has found for example, that her new house leaks which of course is unsupportable. This inconvenience is compounded by the builders who will take no responsibility, with the result that she simple continues all the while to complain most insistently and ineffectually, whilst getting damper and damper. But of course I would never remonstrate with her directly, nor instruct her to contact the owner of the house or to engage another builder, because I feel that her presence adds a certain distinction to our company and I feel she simply needs me to be a confident and a support. I am in daily hope of an invitation to her house to take tea, if not to inspect the patches on her walls, neither of which has happened yet. But really, dear Elinor, can you imagine in the same circumstances, you or me being so utterly without resource. Some people seem to have been educated simply in order to attract a husband, at which point they stop being of any use whatsoever (I must admit that I would only write this if I knew for certain that she would never read if – which, of course, I do.)
I digress because I really want to write about the unexpected pleasure of the tea party, as I said at the beginning. When tea parties first started I believe that there was soon a magazine called “The Tea Table” which suggested topics to be discussed, but even without it, I find that there is no shortage of things about which to talk. We speak about furnishing our houses, dress materials and styles, new magazines, the circulating library, the latest theatre or concert party or ball, Oh such a variety, we are never dull and I have omitted perhaps the most entertaining of all, gossip. I find this to be a particular pleasure. I am not too unguarded because I am very aware of Martha’s presence, but I do find it such a relief to be able to express myself. I am sure you can imagine which topic I am particularly pleased to air, but I find the joy of being able to discuss my marital circumstances so great as to almost annul the distress they cause me.
I live for your letters dear Elinor, and meanwhile I trust this terrible winter is not treating you too badly.
Your loving friend
Martha Hankey