On Good Breeding
|Men's Fashions 1837|
|French Essayist and Moralist, La Bruyre|
The French and the Chinese are the most formal of all the nations. Yet the one is the stiffest and most distant; the other, the easiest and most social. "We may define politeness," says La Bruyére, "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."
Perhaps even the greatest merit cannot successfully straggle against unfortunate and disagreeable manners. Lord Chesterfield says that the Duke of Marlborough owed his first promotions to the suavity of his manners, and that without it he could not have risen. La Bruyére has elsewhere given this happy definition of politeness, the other passage being rather a description of it. "Politeness seems to be a certain care, by the manner of our words and actions, to make others pleased with us and themselves." We must here stop to point out an error which is often committed both in practice and opinion, and which consists in confounding together the gentleman and the man of fashion. No two characters can be more distinct than these.
If Chesterfield could have retained sufficient presence of mind to have done the same on such an occasion, he would have applauded himself to the end of his days. So delicate is the nature of those qualities that constitute a gentleman, that there is but one exhibition of this description of persons in all the literary and dramatic fictions from Shakespeare downward. Scott has not attempted it. Bulwer, in "Pelham," has shot wide of the mark. It was reserved for the author of two very singular productions, "Sydenham" and its continuation "Alice Paulet"--works of extraordinary merits and extraordinary faults--to portray this character completely, in the person of Mr. Paulet.*
Charles Butler's Reminiscences
|Charles Butler, Esq.|
Lord Chesterfield on Manners and DeportmentLord Chesterfield (1694–1773) wrote Principles of Politeness, and of Knowing the World (Boston, 1794), was an adaptation of letters written to instruct his son in the ways of the world.
"Next to good-breeding," said Chesterfield, "is genteel manners and carriage," and the best method to acquire these is through a knowledge of dance. "Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary."