Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Conformity and Etiquette In the Victorian Era

On Conformity and Etiquette

"La mode universelle."
You must conform, to such an extent as not to annoy and give offense,to the customs, whether in dress or other matters, of the circle in which you move. This conformity is an implied condition in the social compact. It is a practical recognition of the right of others, and shows merely a proper regard for their opinions and feelings.

If you cannot sing in tune with the rest, or on the same key, remain silent. You may be right and the others wrong but that does not alter the case. Convince them, if you can, and bring themto your pitch, but never mar even a low accord. So if you cannot adapt your dress and manners to the company in which you find yourself, the sooner you take your leave the better. 
You may and should endeavor, in a proper way, to change such customs and fashions as you may deem wrong, or injurious in their tendency, but, in the mean time, you have no right to violate them. You may choose your company, but, having chosen it, you must conform to its rules 'til you can change them. You are not compelled to reside in Rome; but if you choose to live there, you must "do as the Romans do."
You are not compelled to reside in Rome; but if you choose to live there, you must "do as the Romans do.
King Abdullah and Hu Jintao drink tea together.
The rules which should govern your conduct, as an isolated individual, were such a thing as isolation possible in the midst of society, are modified by your relations to those around you. This life of ours is a complex affair, and our greatest errors arise from our one-side views of it. We are sovereign individuals, and are born with certain "inalienable rights;" but we are also members of that larger individual society, and our rights can not conflict with the duties which grow out of that relation. If by means of our non-conformity we cause ourselves to be cut off, like an offending hand, or plucked out, like an offending eye, our usefulness is at once destroyed.

It is related of a certain king that on a particular occasion he
turned his tea into his saucer, contrary to his custom and to the
etiquette of society, because two country ladies, whose hospitalities he was enjoying, did so. That king was a gentleman; and this anecdote serves to illustrate an important principle; namely, that true politeness and genuine good manners often not only permit, but absolutely demand, a violation of some of the arbitrary rules of etiquette.
 
From "How to Behave: A Pocket Manual of Republican Etiquette,
and Guide to Correct Personal Habits Embracing An Exposition
Of The Principles Of Good Manners"
 By Samuel R. (Roberts) Wells, 1877