Under Construction! Chapters 1-16 completed.
Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society
by Richard A. Wells, A.M.
Introduction by Rev. Willard E. Waterbury King, Richardson & Co., Publishers
Chapter One – Introductory
High birth and good breeding are the privileges of the few; but the
habits and manners of a gentleman may be acquired by all. Nor is their
acquirement attended with difficulty. Etiquette is not an art requiring the
study of a life-time; on the contrary, its principles are simple, and their
practical application involves only ordinary care, tact and sagacity.
To gain the good opinion of those who surround them, is the first interest and the second duty of men in every profession of life. For power and for pleasure, this preliminary is equally indispensable. Unless we are eminent and respectable before our fellow beings, we cannot possess that influence which is essential to the accomplishment of great designs; and men have so inherent, and one might almost say constitutional, a disposition to refer all that they say and do, to the thoughts and feelings of others, that upon the tide of the world’s opinion floats the complacency of every man.
And here we find the uses of etiquette. We are not all equally civilized; some of us are scarcely more than savage by nature and training, or rather lack of training. Yet we all wish to put on the regalia of civilization that we may be recognized as belonging to the guild of ladies and gentlemen in the world.
The requisites to compose this last character are natural ease of manner, and an acquaintance with the “outward habit of encounter” – dignity and self-possession – a respect for all the decencies of life, and perfect freedom from all affectation.
It is an express and admirable distinction of a gentleman, that, in the ordinary affairs of life, he is extremely slow to take offense. He scorns to attribute ungentle motive, and dismisses the provocation without dignifying it by consideration. For instance, if he should see trifling persons laughing in another part of the room, when he might suppose that they were sneering at him, or should hear a remark from a person careless of his speech, which he could construe to be disrespectful to himself, he will presume that they are swayed by the same exalted sentiments as those which dwell within his own bosom, and he will not for a moment suffer his serenity to be sullied by suspicion. If, in fact, the others have been not altogether unwilling to wound, his elevated bearing will shame them into propriety.
A gentleman is never embarrassed, when, in the carelessness of conversation, he has made use of any expression which is capable of an indecent signification, and which, in vulgar society, would be the prelude of a laugh. He gives his company credit for refinement of mind and entire purity of association, and permits himself to speak with freedom of those things which are commonly the accessories of evil, without feeling any apprehension that the idea of the evil itself may be excited.
In whatever society, or in whatever part of the world, a gentleman may happen to be, he always complies externally with the spirit and usages of the place.
His constant effort is never to wound the feelings of another, and he is well aware that prejudice can excite feeling quite as strongly as truth. Of course, this compliance is not to be made at the expense of honor and integrity.
A gentleman is distinguished as much by his composure as by any other quality. His exertions are always subdued, and his efforts easy. He is never surprised into an exclamation or startled by anything. Throughout life he avoids what the French call scenes, -- occasions of exhibition, in which the vulgar delight. He of course has feelings, but he never exhibits any to the world.
A gentleman always possesses a certain self-respect, -- not indeed touching upon self-esteem, and far removed from self-conceit, -- which relieves him from the fear of failing in propriety, or incurring remarks.
Indeed, a gentleman, in the highest signification of the term, is a noble animal. Viewed as furnished with all those qualities which should unite to complete the impression, he may be considered as the image of a perfect man. He has all that is valuable of Christian accomplishment, he has its gentleness, its disinterestedness, its amiableness. Employing, in the regulation his own conduct, the strictest standard of propriety, and in his expectations of that of others, the most lenient; cautious in accepting quarrel, more cautious in giving cause for it; lending to virtue the forms of courtesy; and borrowing from her the substance of sincerity; forming his opinions boldly, expressing them gracefully; in action, brave, in conference, gentle; always anxious to please, and always willing to be pleased; expecting from none what he would not be inclined to yield to all; giving interest to small things, whenever small things cannot be avoided, and gaining elevation from great, whevever great can be attained; valuing his own esteem too highly to be guilty of dishonor, and the esteem of others to considerately to be guilty of incivility; never violating decency, and respecting even the prejudices of honesty; yielding with an air of strength, and opposing with an appearance of submission; full of courage, but free from ostentation; without assumption, with servility; too wise to despise trifles, but too noble ever to be degraded by them; dignified but not haughty, firm but not impracticable, learned but not pedantic; to his superiors respectful, to his equals courteous; kind to his inferiors, and wishing well to all.
It is this modest pride which gives him that charming ease, which, above all things, marks his manner. He would converse with Kings, or the embodied “blood of the Howards,” with as much composure as he would exhibit in speaking to his footman.
A perfect gentleman instinctively knows just what to do under all circumstances, and need be bound by no written code of manners. Yet there is an unwritten code which is as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, and we who would acquire gentility must by some means make ourselves familiar with this.
The true gentleman is rare, but, fortunately, there is no crime in counterfeiting his excellencies. The best of it is that the counterfeit may, in course of time, develop into the real thing.
How shall I describe a lady? Solomon has done it for me: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” “She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.” “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.” “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.”
“She maketh herself covering of tapersty; her clothing is silk and purple.”
“Her husband is known in the gates.”
“Strength and honor are her clothing.”
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
Strength, honor, wisdom, goodness and virtue are
her requisites. A woman strong and womanly in all her ways, in whom the heart of
her husband can safely trust – this is the perfect lady.
That all should seek to shape the way and fashion of their lives in accordance with these models there can be no doubt. The best and surest course to pursue for that end is to look for, and to imitate as far as possible, the manifestations of the characteristics I have endeavored to describe. And that what was at first mere imitation may become at last a second nature.
Good manners were perhaps originally but an expression of submission from the weaker to the stronger, and many traces of their origin still remain; but a spirit of kindliness and unselfishness born of a higher code of civilization permeates for the most part the code of politeness.
As an illustration of this, we cannot do better than cite the requirements of good breeding in regard to women. It is considered perfectly proper in the more barbarous forms of society to treat woman with all contumely. In polite society great deference is paid to her and certain seemingly arbitrary requirements are made in her favor. Thus a gentleman is always expected to vacate his seat in favor of a lady who is unprovided with one. If it were possible to carry discrimination into this matter of yielding up seats, and require that the young, healthful and strong of either sex should stand that the old, weak and invalid of both sexes might sit, there could be no possible doubt as to the propriety of the regulation.
The wisdom of the social law, as it really is, seems open to question. Yet it is wise and right, nevertheless. Taking men as a whole, they are better able to endure the fatigue of standing than women. Women as mothers of the race, the bearers and nurses of children, are entitled to special consideration and care on account of the physical disabilities which these duties entail; and even if in their ordinary health they are capable of enduring fatigue, still there are times when to compel them to this endurance is cruel and unjust. Since women prefer, as a rule, to conceal their womanly weaknesses and disabilities as far as practicable, it is impossible for individual men to judge of the strength or weakness of individual women. Thus, when a man rises from his seat to give it to a woman, he silently says, in the spirit of true and noble manliness, “I offer you this, madam, in memory of my mother, who suffered that I might live, and of my present or future wife, who is, or will be, the mother of my children.” Such devotion of the stronger sex to the weaker is beautiful and just; and this chivalrous spirit, carried through all the requirements of politeness, has a significance which should neither be overlooked nor undervalued. It is the very poetry of life, and tends toward that further development of civilization when all traces of woman’s original degradation shall be lost.
Those who would think slightingly of the importance of good manners should read Emerson, who says; “When we reflect how manners recommend, prepare and draw people together; how, in all clubs, manners make the members; how manners make the fortune of the ambitious youth; that, for the most part, his manners marry him, and for the most part, he marries manners; when we think what keys they are, and to what secrets; what high lessons and inspiring tokens of character they convey; and what divination is required in us for the reading of this fine telegraph, -- we see what range the subject has, and what relations to convenience, form and beauty. The maxim of courts is power. A calm and resolute bearing, a polished speech, an embellishment of trifles and the art of hiding all uncomfortable feelings are essential to the courtier. . . . Manners impress, as they indicate real power. A man who is sure of his point carries a broad and contented expression, which everybody reads; and you cannot rightly train to an air and manner except by making him the kind of man of whom that manner is the natural expression. Nature forever puts a premium on reality.”
Lord Chesterfield declared good breeding to be “the result of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them.” The same authority in polite matters says, “Good sense and good nature suggest civility in general, but in good breeding there are a thousand little delicacies which are established only by custom.”
“Etiquette,” says a modern English author, “may be defined as the minor morality of life. No observances, however minute, that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station.
As to the technical part of politeness, or forms alone, the intercourse of society, and good advice, are undoubtedly useful, but the grand secret of never failing in propriety of deportment, is to have an intention of always doing what is right. With such a disposition of mind, exactness in observing what is proper appears to all to possess a charm and influence; and then not only do mistakes from their thoughtlessness and naïveté. Be, therefore, modest and benevolent, and do not distress yourself on account of the mistakes of your inexperience; a little attention, and the advice of a friend will soon correct these trifling errors.
Morals, lay the foundation of manners. A well-ordered mind, a well-regulated heart, produce the best conduct. The rules which a philosopher or moralist lays down for his own guidance, properly developed, lead to the most courteous acts.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others, or to yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common
or unavoidable, and “be temperate in all things.”
Let these rules be applied to the elegant intercourse of life, and they are precisely what is required. Those who would set good morals and good manners at variance, wrong both.
That true good breeding consists not in the manner, but in the mind, is one of those insipid common-places that the world delights to be told. That a pleasing exterior of appearance, and an insinuating habit of demeanor, may be perfectly attained by one, to whose feelings honor is a stranger, and generosity utterly unknown, it would be absurd to deny. But there unquestionably goes more than this to the formation of a thorough gentleman. Separated from native loftiness of sentiment, we rarely discover those courtly, and, if I may say so, those magnanimous manners, which constitute a high-bred man.
Chapter Two – Entrance Into Society
To become accepted in society, a young man must win the good will of a few ladies of assured position who are the ruling spirits in their charmed circle, and whose dictum determines the social standing of the young aspirant. It is of less importance to be in favor with the young girls who are themselves just entering society than with these older women, who can countenance whom they will and whose approbation and support will serve the novitiate better than fortune, talent or accomplishments.
The Goodwill of Women.
A young man in entering society cannot be too attentive to conciliate the good
will of women. Their approbation and support will serve him instead of a
thousand good qualities. Their judgment dispenses with fortune, talent and even
The desire of pleasing is, of course, the basis of social connection. Persons who enter society with the intention of producing an effect, and of being distinguished, however clever they may be, are never agreeable. They are always tiresome, and often ridiculous. Persons, who enter life with such pretensions, have no opportunity for improving themselves and profiting by experience. They are not in a proper state to observe. Indeed, they look only for the effect which they produce, and with that they are not often gratified. They thrust themselves into all conversations, indulge in continual anecdotes, which are varied only by dull disquisitions, listen to others with impatience and heedlessness, and are angry that they seem to be attending to themselves. Such persons go through scenes of pleasure, enjoying nothing. They are equally disagreeable to themselves and others.
Young men should content themselves with being
natural. Let them present themselves with a modest assurance: let them observe,
hear, and examine, and before long they will rival their models.
With Whom to Associate.
The conversation of those women who are not the
most lavishly supplied with personal beauty, will be of the most advantage to
the young aspirant. Such persons have cultivated their manners and conversation
more than those who can rely upon their natural endowments. The absence of pride
and pretension has improved their good nature and their affability. They are not
too much occupied in contemplating their own charms, to be indisposed to indulge
in gentle criticism of others. One acquires from them an elegance in one’s
manners as well as one’s expressions. Their kindness pardons every error and
to instruct or reprove, their acts are so delicate that the lesson which they
give, always without offending, is sure to be profitable, though it may be often
Women observe all the delicacies of propriety in
manners, and all the shades of impropriety, much better than men; not only
because they attend to them earlier and longer, but because their perceptions
are more refined than those of the other sex, who are habitually employed about
greater things. Women divine, rather than arrive at the proper conclusions.
What to Tolerate.
The whims and caprices of women in society should
of course be tolerated by men, who themselves require toleration to far greater
inconveniences. But this must not be carried too far. There are certain limits
to empire which, if they themselves forget, should be pointed out to them with
delicacy and politeness. You should be the slave of women, but not of all their
Common Place Speech.
Compliment is the language of intercourse from men
to women. But be careful to avoid elaborate and common-place forms of gallant
speech. Do not strive to make those long eulogies on a woman, which have the
regularity and nice dependency of a proposition in
The quality which a young man should most affect in
intercourse with gentlemen, is a decent modesty: but he must avoid all
bashfulness or timidity. His flights must not go too far; but, so far as they
go, let them be marked by perfect assurance.
Among persons who are much your seniors behave with
the most respectful deference. As they find themselves sliding out of importance
they may be easily conciliated by a little respect.
Ease of Manner.
By far the most important thing to be attended to,
in ease of manner. Grace may be added afterwards, or be omitted
altogether: it is of much less moment than is commonly believed. Perfect
propriety and entire ease are sufficient qualifications for standing in society,
and abundant prerequisites for distinction.
Distinction in Conduct.
There is the most delicate shade of difference
between civility and intrusiveness, familiarity and common-place, pleasantry and
sharpness, the natural and the rude, gaiety and carelessness; hence the
inconveniences of society, and the errors of its members. To define well in
conduct these distinctions, is the great art of a man of the world. It is easy
to know what to do; the difficulty is to know what to avoid.
A sort of moral magnetism, a tact acquired by
frequent and long associating with others – alone give those qualities which
keep one always from error, and entitle him to the name of a thorough gentleman.
A young man or woman upon first entering into
society should select those person who are most celebrated for the propriety and
elegance of their manners. They should frequent their company, and imitate their
conduct. There is a disposition inherent in all, which has been noticed by
Horace and by Dr. Johnson, to imitate faults, because they are more readily
observed and more easily followed. There are, also, many foibles of manner and
many refinements of affectation, which sit agreeably upon one man, which if
adopted by another would become unpleasant. There are even some excellences of
deportment which would not suit another whose character is different.
For successful imitation in anything, good sense is
indispensable. It is requisite correctly to appreciate the natural differences
between your model and yourself, and to introduce such modifications in the copy
as may be consistent with them.
Qualities of a Gentleman.
Let not any man imagine, that he shall easily
acquire those qualities which will constitute him a gentleman. It is necessary
not only to exert the highest degree of art, but to attain also that higher
accomplishment of concealing art. The serene and elevated dignity which mark
that character, are the result of untiring and arduous effort. After the
sculpture has attained the shape of propriety, it remains to smooth off all the
marks of the chisel. “A gentleman,” says a celebrated French author, “is
one who has reflected deeply upon all the obligations which belong to his
station, and who has applied himself ardently to fulfill them with grace.”
Whom to Imitate.
He who is polite without importunity, gallant
without being offensive, attentive to the comfort of all; employing a
well-regulated kindness, witty at the proper times discreet, indulgent,
generous, who exercises, in his sphere, a high degree of moral authority; he it
is, and he alone, that one should imitate.
Chapter Three –
In the introduction of one gentleman to another, great prudence and caution must be used by the really polite man; but in the introduction of ladies to each other, and to gentlemen, infinitely more care is necessary, as a lady cannot shake off an improper acquaintance with the same facility as a gentleman can do, and her character is much easier affected by apparent contact with the worthless and the dissipated. It is incumbent, therefore, on ladies to avoid all proffers of introductions, unless from those on whom from relationship of other causes, they can place the most implicit confidence.
Introductions by Relatives.
As a general rule, ladies may always at once accord
to any offers of introduction that may proceed from a father, mother, husband,
sister of brother; those from intimate cousins and tried friends are also to be
considered favorably, although not to be entitled to the same implicit reliance
as the former.
Formerly it was the habit for the ladies to curtsey
on being introduced, but this has latterly been changing into the more easy and
graceful custom of bowing.
Saluting and Shaking Hands.
The habit of saluting and shaking hands is now
quite obsolete, except in some country towns where ladies at first introductions
salute other ladies by kissing them on the cheek, and fervently shake the hands
of the gentlemen.
At present, in the best society, all that a lady is
called upon to do, upon a first introduction either to a lady or a gentleman, is
to make a slight, but gracious inclination of the head.
Second or Subsequent Meeting.
Upon one lady meeting another for the second or
subsequent times, the hand may be extended in supplement to the inclination of
the head; but no lady should ever extend her hand to a gentleman, unless she is
very intimate, -- a bow at meeting and one at parting, is all that is necessary.
The Obligations of Introduction.
Two persons who have been properly introduced have
in future certain claims upon one another’s acquaintance which should be
recognized unless there are sufficient reasons for overlooking them. Even in
that case good manners require the formal bow of recognition upon meeting, which
of itself encourages no familiarity. Only a very ill-bred person will meet
another with a vacant stare.
After an Introduction.
If you wish to avoid the company of any one that
has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that yours reasons are
correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with
respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able
either to blame or mistake you.
Introductions while Traveling.
If, in traveling, anyone introduces himself to you
and does it in a proper and respectful manner, conduct yourself towards him with
politeness, ease, and dignity; if he is a gentleman, he will appreciate your
behavior—and if not a gentleman will be deterred from annoying you; but
acquaintanceships thus formed must cease where they began. Your entering into
conversation with a lady of gentleman while traveling does not give any of you a
right to after recognition. If any one introduces himself to you in a manner
betraying the least want of respect, either towards you or himself, you can only
turn from him in dignified silence, -- and if he presumes to address you
further, then there is no punishment too severe.
Introductory Letter to Ladies.
Be very cautious of giving a gentleman a letter of
introduction to a lady; for remember, in proportion as you are esteemed by the
lady to whom it is addressed, so do you claim for your friend her good wishes,
-- and such letters are often the means of settling the weal or the woe of the
parties for life. Ladies should never themselves, unless upon cases of the most
urgent business, deliver introductory letters, but should sed them in an
envelope inclosing their card.
Receipt of Introductory Letters.
On receipt of an introductory letter, take it into
instant consideration; if you are determined not to receive the party, write at
once some polite, plausible, but dignified cause of excuse. If the party is one
you think fit to receive, then let your answer be accordingly, and without
delay; never leave unanswered till the next day a letter of introduction.
If any one whom you have never seen before call
with a letter of introduction, and you know from its appearance who sent it,
desire the person to sit down, and at once treat them politely; but if you do
not recognize the hand-writing it is quite proper, after requesting them to be
seated, to beg their pardon, and peruse the letter in order that you may know
how to act.
Requesting a Letter of Introduction.
In any one requests a letter of introduction, and
you do not consider that it would be prudent, either in respect to your
situation with the person so requesting it, or with the one to whom it would be
addressed, refuse it with firmness, and allow no inducement whatever to alter
Introduction to Society.
On your introduction to society, be modest,
retiring, unassuming, and dignified; pay respect to all, but most to those who
pay you the most, provided it is respectful and timely.
In introducing a person be sure to give him his
appropriate title, as some persons are jealous of their dignity. If he is a
clergyman, say “The Rev. Mr. Forsyth.” If a doctor of divinity, say “The
Rev. Dr. Forsyth.” If he is a member of Congress, call him “Honorable,”
and specify to which branch of Congress he belongs. If he be governor of State,
mention what State. If he is a man of any celebrity in the world of art or
letters, it is well to mention the fact something after this manner: “Mr.
Ellis, the artist, whose pictures you have frequently seen,” or “Mr. Smith,
author of ‘The World after the Deluge,’ which you so greatly admired.”
Proper Forms of Introduction.
The proper form of introduction is to present the
gentleman to the lady, the younger to the older, the inferior to the superior;
Thus you will say: “Mrs. Cary, allow me to present to you Mr. Rhodes: Mr.
Rhodes, Mrs. Cary;” “Mrs. Woods, let me present to you my friend Miss.
Ewing;” “General Graves, permit me to introduce to you Mr. Hughes.” The
exact words used in introductions are immaterial, so that the proper order is
It is better, among perfect equals, to employ the
phrase, “Permit me to present you to * *,” than “Permit me to present to
you * *;” there are men in this world, and men, too, who are so sensitive that
they would be offended if the latter of tese forms was employed in presenting
them to another.
These ceremonious phrases, “Permit me to present, &c.,” are not to be employed unless the
acquaintance has been solicited by one party, under circumstances of mere
ceremony; and when you employ them, do not omit to repeat to each distinctly the
name of the other.
When two men unacquainted meet one another where it
is obviously necessary that they should be made known to each other, perform the
operation with mathematical simplicity and precision, -- “Mr. A., Mr. A.`;
Mr. A.`, Mr. A.”
Speak the Name Distinctly
When, upon being presented to another, you do not
feel certain of having caught his name, it may be worse than awkward to remain,
as it were, shooting in the dark; say, therefore, at once, without hesitation or
embarrassment, before making your bow, “I beg your pardon, I did not hear your
Introduction of a Lady to Gentlemen.
When you are presented to a gentleman, do not give
your hand, but merely bow, with politeness: and, if you have requested the
presentment, or know the person by reputation, you may make a speech, -- indeed,
in all cases it is courteous to add, “I am happy to make your acquaintance,”
or, “I am happy to have the honor of your acquaintance.” I am aware that
high authority might be found in this country to sanction the custom of giving
the hand upon the first meeting, but it is undoubtedly a solecism in manners.
The habit has been adopted by us, with some improvement for the worse, from
Introductions in Other Countries.
When two Frenchmen are presented to one another,
each presses the other’s hand with delicate affection. The English, however,
never do so; and the practice is altogether inconsistent with the caution of
manner which is characteristic of their nation and our own. If we are to follow
the French in shaking hands with one whom we have never before seen, we should
certainly imitate them also in kissing our intimate male acquaintances. There
are some Americans, indeed, who will not leave this matter optional, but will
seize your hand in spite of you, and visit it pretty roughly before you recover
it. Next to being presented to the Grand Jury, is the nuisance of being
presented to such persons. Such handling is most unhandsome.
Introductions with Permission.
A gentleman should not be presented to a lady
without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not
necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at
his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the
acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter. You may decline upon the ground of
not being sufficiently intimate yourself. A man does himself no service another
when he obliges him to know people whom he would rather avoid.
Introductions without Permission.
There are some exceptions to the necessity of
applying to a lady for her permission. At a party or a dance, the mistress of
the house may present any man to any woman without application to the latter. A
sister may present her brother, and a mother may present her son, upon their own
authority; but they should be careful not to do this unless where they are very
intimate, and unless there is not inferiority on their part. A woman may be very
willing to know another woman, without caring be saddled with her whole family.
As a general rule, it is better to be presented by the mistress of the house,
than by any other person.
Meeting on the Street.
If you are walking down the street in company with
another person, and stop to say something to one of your friends, or are joined
by a friend who walks with you for a long time, do not commit the too common,
but most flagrant error, of presenting such persons to one another.
If you are paying a morning visit, and some one
comes in, whose name you know, and no more, and he or she is not recognized by,
or acquainted with, the person visited, present such a person, yourself.
If on entering a drawing-room to pay a visit, you
are not recognized, mention your name immediately; if you know but one member of
a family, and you find other only in the parlor, present yourself to them. Much
awkwardness may be occasioned by want of attention to this.
Assisting a Lady in Difficulty.
If you see a lady whom you do not know, unattended,
and wanting the assistance of a man, offer your services to her immediately. Do
it with great courtesy, taking off your hat and begging the honor of assisting
her. This precept, although universally observed in
Chapter Four –
It is the salutation, says a French writer, which is the touchstone of good breeding. There have been men since Absolom who have owed their ruin to a bad bow. According to circumstances, it should be respectful, cordial, civil, affectionate or familiar—an inclination of the head, a gesture with the hand, the touching or doffing of the hat. “It would seem that good manners were originally the expression of submission from the weaker to the stronger. In a rude state of society every salutation is to this day an act of worship. Hence the commonest acts, phrases and signs of courtesy with which we are now familiar, date from those earlier stages when the strong hand ruled and the inferior demonstrated his allegiance by studied servility. Let us take, for example, the words ‘sir’ and ‘madam.’ ‘Sir’ is derived from seigneur, sieur, and originally meant lord, king, ruler and, in its patriarchal sense, father. The title of sire was last borne by some of the ancient feudal families of France, who, as
Forms of Salutation.
“To turn to our every-day forms of salutation. We
take off our hats on visiting an acquaintance. We bow on being introduced to
strangers. We rise when visitors enter our drawing room. We wave our hand to our
friend as he passes the window or drives away from our door. The Oriental, in
like manner, leaves his shoes on the threshold when he pays a visit. The natives
Salutations of Different Nations.
Each nation has its own method of salutation. In
The bow is the proper mode of salutation to
exchange between acquaintance in public, and, in certain circumstances, in
private. The bow should never be a mere nod. A gentleman should raise his hat
completely from his head and slightly incline the whole body. Ladies should
recognize their gentlemen friends with a bow or graceful inclination. It is
their place to bow first, although among intimate acquaintances the recognition
may be simultaneous.
A well-bred man always removes his cigar from his
lips whenever he bows to a lady.
A young lady should show the same deference to an
elderly lady, or one occupying a higher social position, that a gentleman does a
Words of Salutation.
The most common forms of salutation are—“How
d’ye do?” “How are you?” “Good-morning,” and “Good-evening.” The
two latter forms seem the most appropriate, as it is most absurd to ask after a
person’s health and not stop to receive the answer. A respectful bow should
always accompany the words of salutation.
Foreigners are given to embracing. In
Salutations on the Street.
It is a mark of high breeding not to speak to a
lady in the street, until you perceive that she has noticed you by an
inclination of the head.
Meeting in the Street.
If you have anything to say to any one in the
street, especially a lady, however intimate you may be, do not stop the person,
but turn round and walk in company; you can take leave at the end of the street.
Bow of Civility.
If there is any one of your acquaintance, with whom you have a difference, do not avoid looking at him, unless from the nature of things the quarrel is necessarily for life. It is almost always better to bow with cold civility, though without speaking. In passing women with whom you are not particularly acquainted, bow, but do not speak.
In bowing to women it is not enough that you touch
your hat; you must take it entirely off. Employ for the purpose that hand which
is most distant from the person saluted; thus, if you pass on the right side,
use your right hand; if on the left, use your left hand.
Among friends, the shaking of the hand is the
genuine and cordial expression of good-will. It is not necessary, though in
certain cases it is not forbidden, upon introduction; but when acquaintanceship
has reached any degree of intimacy, it not perfectly proper.
Etiquette of Handshaking.
“The etiquette of handshaking is simple. A man
has no right to take a lady’s hand until it is offered. He has even less right
to pinch or retain it. Two ladies shake hands gently and softly. A young lady
gives her hand, but does not shake a gentleman’s unless she is his friend. A
lady should always rise to give her hand; a gentleman, of course, never dares to
do so seated. On introduction in a room a married lady generally offers her
hand; a young lady, not. In a ballroom, where the introduction is to dancing,
not to friendship, you never shake hands; and as a general room, an introduction
is not followed by shaking hands, only by a bow. It may perhaps be laid down
that the more public the place of introduction, the less handshaking takes
place. But if the introduction be particular, if it be accompanied by personal
recommendation, such as, ‘I want you to know my friends Phelps,’ or if
Phelps comes with a letter presentation, then you give Phelps your hand, and
warmly too. Lastly, it is the privilege of a superior to offer or withhold his
or her hand, so that an inferior should never put his forward first.”
When a lady so far puts aside her reserve as to
shake hands at all, she should give her hand with frankness and cordiality.
There should be equal frankness and cordiality on the gentleman’s part, and
even more warmth, though a careful avoidance of anything like offensive
familiarity or that which might be mistaken as such. A lady who has only two
fingers to give in handshaking had better keep them to herself; and a gentleman
who rudely presses the hand offered him in salutation, or too violently shakes
it, our never to have an opportunity to repeat his offense.”
The most familiar and affectionate form of
salutation is the kiss. It needs scarcely to be said that this is only proper on
special occasions and between special parties.
The Kiss of Respect.
The kiss of mere respect—almost obsolete in this
country—is made on the hand. This custom is retained in
The Kiss of Friendship.
The kiss of friendship and relationship is on the
cheeks and forehead. As a general rule, this act of affection is excluded from
public eyes;--in the case of parents
and children unnecessarily so; for there is no more pleasing and touching sight
than to see a young man kiss his mother, or a young woman her father, upon
meeting or parting.
Women Kissing in Public.
Custom seems to give a kind of sanction to women
kissing each other in public: but there is, nevertheless, a touch of vulgarity
about it, and a lady of really delicate perceptions will avoid it.
Chapter Five –
We will, in the following chapters, dwell more particularly upon the external usages and customs of polite life—a knowledge and practice of which are necessary to enable one to enter respectable company. In many instances we have repeated the same idea over again, to enforce some important point. We now proceed to give the reader some advice as to the mental qualities desirable to be possessed by all to wish to make a lasting mark in “our best society.”
The Value of Knowledge.
The young are apt to disregard the value of
knowledge,--partly, we fear, from the pertinacious constancy with which with
which teachers, parents, and guardians, endeavor to impress them with its
“Knowledge better than houses and lands” is the
title of one of the first picture-books presented to a child, and it is the
substance of ten thousand precepts which are constantly dinned in his ears from
infancy upwards; so that, at first, the truth becomes tiresome and almost
A Good Conscience.
Still it is a sober truth, of which every one
should feel the force, that, with the single exception of a good conscience, no
possession can be so valuable as a good stock of information.
Some portion of it is always coming into use; and
there is hardly any kind of information which may not become useful in an active
When we speak of information, we do not mean that
merely which has direct reference to one’s trade, profession, or business.
To be skillful in these is a matter of absolute
necessity; so much so, that we often see, for example, a merchant beginning the
world with no other stock than a good character and a thorough knowledge of
business, and speedily acquiring wealth and respectability; while another, who
is not well informed in his business, beings with a fortune, fails in everything
he undertakes, causes loss and disgrace to all who are connected with him, and
goes on blundering to the end of the chapter.
A Well Informed
A thorough knowledge of one’s business or
profession is not enough, of itself, to constitute what is properly called a
One the contrary, one who possesses this kind of
information only, is generally regarded as a mere machine, unfit for society or
Liberal and Scientific Information.
A man should possess a certain amount of liberal
and scientific information, to which he should always be adding something as
long as he lives; and in this free country he should make himself acquainted
with his own political and legal rights.
“Keep a thing seven years and you will have use
for it,” is an old motto which will apply admirably well to almost any branch
Learn almost any science, language, or art, and in
a few years you will find it of service to you.
Employing Leisure Moments.
Employ that leisure which others waste in idle and
corrupting pursuits, in the acquisition of those branches of knowledge which
serve to amuse as well as instruct; natural history, for example, or chemistry,
or astronomy, or drawing, or any of the numerous kindred branches of study.
Softening Natural Ferocity.
There is an most tempers a natural ferocity which
wants to be softened; and the study of the liberal arts and sciences will
generally have this happy effect in polishing the manners.
When the mind is daily attentive to useful
learning, a man is detached from his passions, and taken as it were, out of
himself; and the habit of being abstracted makes the mind more manageable,
because the passions are out of practice.
The Arts of Peace.
Besides, the arts of learning are the arts of peace, which furnish no encouragements to a hostile disposition. There is a dreadful mistake too current among young people, and which their own experience is apt to cherish and commend in one another—that a youth is of no consequence, and makes no figure, unless he is quarrelsome, and renders himself a terror to his companions. They call this honor and spririt; but it is false honor, and an evil spirit. It does not command nay respect, but begets hatred and aversion; and as it can not well consist with the purposes of society, it leads a person into a sort of solitude, like that of the wild best in the desert, who must spend his time by himself, because he is not fit for company.
Difference in Social Intercourse.
If any difference arises, it should be conducted with any reason and moderation. Scholars should contend with wit and argument, which are the weapons proper to their profession. Their science is a science of defense; it is like that of fencing with the foil, which has a guard or button upon the point, that no hurt may be given. When the sword is taken up instead of the foil, fencing is no longer an exercise of the school but of the field. If a gentlemen with a foil in his hand appears heated, and in a passion with his adversary, he exposes himself by acting out of character; because this is a trial of art, and not of passion. The reason why people are soon offended, is only this—that they set a high value upon themselves.
A slight reflection can never be a great offense, but when it is offered to a great person; and if a man is such in his own opinion, he will measure an offense, as he measures himself, far beyond its value. If we consult our religion upon this subject, it teaches us that no man is to value himself for any qualifications of mind or body. What we call complaisance, gentility, or good breeding, affects to do this; and is the imitation of a most excellent virtue.
Improving by Conversation.
If we would approve our minds by conversation, it is a great happiness to be acquainted with persons older than ourselves. It is a piece of useful advice, therefore, to get the favor of their conversation frequently, as far as circumstances will allow.
Learn Something from all.
In mixed company, among acquaintances and strangers, endeavor to learn something from all. Be swift to hear, but be cautious with your tongue, lest you betray your ignorance, and perhaps offend some of those who are present too. Acquaint yourself therefore sometimes with persons and parties which are far distant from your common life and customs. This is the way whereby you may form a wiser opinion of men and things. Be not frightened or provoked at opinions different from your own.
Be not too Confident.
Some persons are so confident they are in the right that they will not come within the hearing of any opinion but their own. They canton out to themselves a little province in the intellectual world, where they fancy the light shines, and all the rest is in darkness. Believing that it is impossible to learn something from persons they consider much below themselves.
Narrow and Limited Views.
We are all short-sighted creatures; our views are also, narrow and limited; we often see but one side of a matter, and do not extend our sight far and wide enough to reach everything that has a connection with the thing we talk of. We see but in part; therefore it is no wonder we form incorrect conclusions, because we don’t survey the whole of any subject.
We have a different prospect of the same thing, according to the different positions of our understandings toward it:a weaker man may sometimes light on truths which have escaped a stronger, and which the wiser man might make a happy use of, if he would condescend to take notice of them.
Difference of Opinion.
When you are forced to differ from him who delivers his opinion on any subject, yet agree as far as you can, and represent how far you agree; and, if there be any room for it, explain the words of the speaker in such a sense to which you can in general assent, and so agree with him, or at least by a small addition or alteration of his sentiments show your own sense of things.
It is the practice and delight of a candid hearer to make it appear how unwilling he is to differ from him that speaks.
Let the speaker know that is it nothing but truth constrains you to oppose him; and let that difference be always expressed in few, and civil, and chosen words, such as may give the least offense.
And be careful always to take Solomon’s rule with you, and let your companion finish his speech before you reply; “for he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
A little watchfulness, care, and practice, in younger life, will render all these things more easy, familiar, and natural to you, and will grow into habit.