THESE pages have been prepared for those who are striving to improve themselves in exterior polish, and to add to their stock of information concerning the subjects upon which it treats. It has not been written for those who have been trained in the best usages of society from their infancy; nor for those who learned politeness at the same time that they mastered the alphabet; but for the less favored of both sexes in our land, who are desirous of obtaining a knowledge of the etiquette which governs social intercourse, and are desirous of cultivating both politeness and good-breeding.
Its instructions are perfectly plain, practical and simple — so simple that many persons may incline to ridicule them. But only in this way can we convey information to the many who are desirous of receiving it.
These laws were instituted during the days ancient chivalry, but as years have flown they have been modified in a great degree, many of them being quite obsolete and others entirely changed. Some, however, have been but slightly varied, to suit the times, being governed by the laws of good taste and common sense, and these not only facilitate the intercourse of persons in society, but are also essential to their ease and composure of manner.
“And manners,” said the eloquent Edmund Burke, “are of more importance than laws, for upon them in a great measure the laws depend. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine, by a constant, steady, uniform and insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.”
It is often said that “such a man’s pleasant, affable manners made his fortune.” And it is a truth that politeness and good-breeding go far towards forming both a man and a woman’s reputation, and stamp upon them, as it were, their current value, in the circles wherein they move.
Agreeable manners are very frequently the fruits of a good heart, and then they will surely please, even though they may lack somewhat of graceful, courtly polish. There is hardly any thing of greater importance to children of either sex than good-breeding; and if parents and teachers would perform their duties faithfully, there would not be so much complaint concerning the manners of the American child of the period.
Let us train up our children to behave at home as we would have them act abroad; for we may be certain that, while they are children, they will conduct themselves abroad as they have been in the habit of doing, under similar circumstances at home.
The new version of Solomon’s proverb is said to run thus: –
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will go on training.” But it is open to several definitions.
Enter a home where the parents are civil and courteous towards all within the family circle — whether guests or constant inmates — and you will see that their children are the same; that good manners are learned quite as much by imitation as by fixed rules or principles.
Good manners are not merely conventional rules, but are founded upon reason and good sense and are, therefore, most worthy of the consideration of all; and there are many points of good-breeding which neither time nor place will ever change, because they are founded upon a just regard of man for man.
Some would declare that position, advantageous surroundings, great riches, high birth, or superior intelligence and education, gave the requisites; but all of our readers know of persons who possess some one or more of these advantages, and yet they cannot lay true claims to this desirable and distinctive appellation.
Hence we frequently hear these words –
“Ah! she is no lady!” or, “Indeed, he is no gentleman!” applied to those whose standing is high; who possess much wealth; or are endowed with genius; but have neglected to add to their other advantages the touchstone of politeness and good-breeding.
Our reply to the question is that a well-bred lady is one who to true modesty and refinement, adds a scrupulous attention to the rights and feelings of those with whom she associates, whether they are rich or poor, and who is the same both in the kitchen or parlor. We recall the praise given by an Irishman to a friend of ours, when he said: –
“Troth an’ indade ma’am, jist as ye see her in the parlor, we sees her in the kitchen. Niver a cross word passes her lips, be it to rich or poor, servant or friend.” This is a high meed of praise — and when a courtly address and ease of manner are added to it, we behold a true lady.
Can we answer the other question? We will try.
Whoever is true, loyal and sincere; whoever is of a humane and affable demeanor, and courteous to all; whoever is honorable in himself, and in his judgment of others, and requires no law but his word to hold him to his engagements; — such a man is a gentleman, — whether he be dressed in broadcloth and in fine linen or be clad in a blue homespun frock; — whether his hands are white and soft, or hardened and stained with drudgery and toil.
In a recent address made by the Bishop of Manchester, England, before the Y.M.C.S. of Leeds, he said “Some people think a gentleman means a man of independent fortune — a man who fares sumptuously every day; a man who need not labor for his daily bread. None of these make a gentleman — not one of them — nor all of them together. I have known men when I was brought closer in contact with working men than I am brought now; I have known men of the roughest exterior, who had been used all their lives to follow the plough and to look after horses, as thorough gentlemen in heart as any nobleman who ever wore a ducal coronet. I mean I have known them as unselfish, I have known them as truthful, I have known them as sympathizing; and all these qualities go to make what I understand by the term ‘a gentleman.’
“It is a noble privilege which has been sadly prostituted; and what I want to tell you is, that the humblest man in Leeds, who has the coarsest work to do, yet, if his heart be tender, and pure, and true, can be, in the most emphatic sense of the word, ‘a gentleman.’”
We all know that there are those in our midst who object to politeness, or polite phrases, because, as they say, the language is false and unmeaning. And “company manners” is a scornful term frequently applied to the courteous demeanor, and many polite sentences which are often uttered, and are so very desirable, in well-bred society.
In the common compliments of civilized life, there is no falsehood uttered, because there is no intention to deceive. And polite language is always agreeable to the ear, and lends a soothing influence to the heart, while unkind and rough words, harshly uttered, are just the reverse.
Children and animals recognize this truth quite as readily as adults. A baby will cry at the sound of harsh language; and your horse, cow, dog, or cat, are all most amenable to kind words and caressing motions. And although: –
“‘Tis only man can words create,
And cut the air to sounds articulate
By Nature’s special charter,”
yet kindness is a language which the dumb can speak and the deaf can understand.
We can convey the plainest of truths in a civil speech; and the most malignant of lies can be also wrapped in specious words. But we cannot consider a love of truth any apology for rude and uncouth manners; truth need not be made harsh, unlovely and morose; but should appear kind and gentle, attractive and pleasing. Roughness and honesty are, however, often met with in the same person; but we are not competent judges of human nature; if we take ill-manners to be a guarantee of probity of heart, or think a stranger must be a knave because he possesses the outward seeming of a gentleman. Doubtless there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing in our land, but that does not decrease the value of gentleness and courtesy in the least.
Good manners and a good conscience are very often twin-sisters, and are always more attractive for the companionship.
Good manners are a very essential characteristic of religion also, as well as a fundamental part of civilization; and we are all in duty bound to treat those with whom we come in contact, with consideration, respect and deference.
In the Epistle of St. James, we read the first “Code of Etiquette and Good manners” which was ever given to man from high authority.
The Chinese are the most minute of all nations in their forms of etiquette, etc.; and they have hundreds of books which treat upon politeness and good-breeding. One of their treatises upon these subjects is said to contain over three thousand articles.
The custom of salutations, of visiting, of eating, of making presents, of introductions, writing letters, and the like, are all strictly defined, and they are enforced like our laws — no one being permitted to transgress them. We have been inclined to consider the Chinese as barbarians, while in fact they are a far more polite nation than our own. La Bruy?re, a famous French writer, thus defines politeness:
“We may define politeness, though we cannot tell where to fix it in practice. It observes received usages and customs, is bound to times and places, and is not the same thing in the two sexes or in different conditions. Wit alone cannot obtain it; it is acquired and brought to perfection by emulation. Some dispositions alone are susceptible of politeness, as others are only capable of great talents or solid virtues.”
“It is true, politeness puts merit forward, and renders it agreeable, and a man must have eminent qualifications to support himself without it.”
Politeness may also be said to be the embodiment of the golden rule; and without its aid, without the amenities of society, life is an arid waste, a barren plain.
Gold will not supply the deficiencies of a pleasing deportment; and we can assure our readers that they will find courtesy in all times and at all places the cheapest and most available of commodities.
In Europe, good manners are most highly esteemed, and most assiduously inculcated both in the highest and the lowest classes; and the children are taught that it is very essential for them to show respect to their superiors and elders, and to be always kind and courteous to their inferiors.
In America, politeness and etiquette are well taught in those families who possess culture and refinement; but among the masses rarely taught at all. Our district schools were nurseries of good manners thirty or forty years ago, compared to what they are at the present day.
Good manners are surely at a discount in the United States. We cannot disguise this fact — it is seen by all who travel through the country, who frequent the city, who sail upon our rivers and our lakes, or whirl rapidly along our railways.
The lower officials are often cross and surly — the higher sometimes extremely discourteous; and the want of good-breeding is everywhere noted.
Surely we should ask ourselves the question –
“Whence has this condition of affairs arisen?”
Our democratic principles should not be allowed to lead us to indulge in discourtesy, and thus throw a shadow of disgrace upon our institutions. And those who consider the rules which regulate society needless and absurd, would, if they were laid aside, soon desire their restoration, as they are a needful barrier against rudeness and vulgarity.
There are, doubtless, many eccentricities of fashion, yet they soon pass away; but some prescribed regulations for conduct are essential for the preservation of order and dignity. Etiquette is intended to guard us from some of the inconveniences of a large acquaintance, and by settling certain points, it permits us to maintain a ceremonious acquaintance with a circle much too large for social visiting.
Therefore let us: –
“Study with care, politeness that must teach
The modest forms of gesture and of speech;
In vain formality, with matron mien,
And pertness apes with her familiar grin;
They against nature for applauses strain,
Distort themselves, and give all others pain.”