Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Victorian Manners, Etiquette and Deportment

 
"Compiled from the Latest Reliable Authorities" in 1881

 
William Cowper

"Ingenious Art with her expressive face,
Steps forth to fashion and refine the race."
William Cowper


KNOWLEDGE of etiquette has been defined to be a knowledge of the rules of society at its best. These rules have been the outgrowth of centuries of civilization, had their foundation in friendship and love of man for his fellow man—the vital principles of Christianity—and are most powerful agents for promoting peace, harmony and good will among all people who are enjoying the blessings of more advanced civilized government. In all civilized countries the influence of the best society is of great importance to the welfare and prosperity of the nation, but in no country is the good influence of the most refined society more powerfully felt than in our own, "the land of the future, where mankind may plant, essay, and resolve all social problems." These rules make social intercourse more agreeable, and facilitate hospitalities, when all members of society hold them as binding rules and faithfully regard their observance. They are to society what our laws are to the people as a political body, and to disregard them will give rise to constant misunderstandings, engender ill-will, and beget bad morals and bad manners.


Says an eminent English writer: "On manners, refinement, rules of good breeding, and even the forms of etiquette, we are forever talking, judging our neighbors severely by the breach of traditionary and unwritten laws, and choosing our society and even our friends by the touchstone of courtesy." The Marchioness de Lambert expressed opinions which will be endorsed by the best bred people everywhere when she wrote to her son: "Nothing is more shameful than a voluntary rudeness. Men have found it necessary as well as agreeable to unite for the common good; they have made laws to restrain the wicked; they have agreed among themselves as to the duties of society, and have annexed an honorable character to the practice of those duties. He is the honest man who observes them with the most exactness, and the instances of them multiply in proportion to the degree of nicety of a person's honor."

Good manners are only acquired by education and observation, followed up by habitual practice at home and in society, and good manners reveal to us the lady and the gentleman.

Originally a gentleman was defined to be one who, without any title of nobility, wore a coat of arms. And the descendants of many of the early colonists preserve with much pride and care the old armorial bearings which their ancestors brought with them from their homes in the mother country. Although despising titles and ignoring the rights of kings, they still clung to the "grand old name of gentleman." But race is no longer the only requisite for a gentleman, nor will race united with learning and wealth make a man a gentleman, unless there are present the kind and gentle qualities of the heart, which find expression in the principles of the Golden Rule. Nor will race, education and wealth combined make a woman a true lady if she shows a want of refinement and consideration of the feelings of others.

Good manners are only acquired by education and observation, followed up by habitual practice at home and in society, and good manners reveal to us the lady and the gentleman. He who does not possess them, though he bear the highest title of nobility, cannot expect to be called a gentleman; nor can a woman, without good manners, aspire to be considered a lady by ladies. Manners and morals are indissolubly allied, and no society can be good where they are bad. It is the duty of American women to exercise their influence to form so high a standard of morals and manners that the tendency of society will be continually upwards, seeking to make it the best society of any nation.

As culture is the first requirement of good society, so self-improvement should be the aim of each and all of its members. Manners will improve with the cultivation of the mind, until the pleasure and harmony of social intercourse are no longer marred by the introduction of discordant elements, and they only will be excluded from the best society whose lack of education and whose rude manners will totally unfit them for its enjoyments and appreciation. Good manners are even more essential to harmony in society than a good education, and may be considered as valuable an acquisition as knowledge in any form.

The principles of the Golden Rule, "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," is the basis of all true politeness—principles which teach us to forget ourselves, to be kind to our neighbors, and to be civil even to our enemies. The appearance of so being and doing is what society demands as good manners, and the man or woman trained to this mode of life is regarded as well-bred. The people, thus trained, are easy to get along with, for they are as quick to make an apology when they have been at fault, as they are to accept one when it is made. "The noble-hearted only understand the noble-hearted."

In a society where the majority are rude from the thoughtfulness of ignorance, or remiss from the insolence of bad breeding, the iron rule, "Do unto others, as they do unto you," is more often put into practice than the golden one. The savages know nothing of the virtues of forgiveness, and regard those who are not revengeful as wanting in spirit; so the ill-bred do not understand undeserved civilities extended to promote the general interests of society, and to carry out the injunction of the Scriptures to strive after the things that make for peace.

Society is divided into sets, according to their breeding. One set may be said to have no breeding at all, another to have a little, another more, and another enough; and between the first and last of these, there are more shades than in the rainbow. Good manners are the same in essence everywhere—at courts, in fashionable society, in literary circles, in domestic life—they never change, but social observances, customs and points of etiquette, vary with the age and with the people.

A French writer has said: "To be truly polite, it is necessary to be, at the same time, good, just, and generous. True politeness is the outward visible sign of those inward spiritual graces called modesty, unselfishness and generosity. The manners of a gentleman are the index of his soul. His speech is innocent, because his life is pure; his thoughts are right, because his actions are upright; his bearing is gentle, because his feelings, his impulses, and his training are gentle also. A gentleman is entirely free from every kind of pretence. He avoids homage, instead of exacting it. Mere ceremonies have no attraction for him. He seeks not to say any civil things, but to do them. His hospitality, though hearty and sincere, will be strictly regulated by his means. His friends will be chosen for their good qualities and good manners; his servants for their truthfulness and honesty; his occupations for their usefulness, their gracefulness or their elevating tendencies, whether moral, mental or political."

In the same general tone does Ruskin describe a gentleman, when he says: "A gentleman's first characteristic is that fineness of structure in the body which renders it capable of the most delicate sensation, and of that structure in the mind which renders it capable of the most delicate sympathies—one may say, simply, 'fineness of nature.' This is, of course, compatible with the heroic bodily strength and mental firmness; in fact, heroic strength is not conceivable without such delicacy. Elephantine strength may drive its way through a forest and feel no touch of the boughs, but the white skin of Homer's Atrides would have felt a bent rose-leaf, yet subdue its feelings in the glow of battle and behave itself like iron. I do not mean to call an elephant a vulgar animal; but if you think about him carefully, you will find that his non-vulgarity consists in such gentleness as is possible to elephantine nature—not in his insensitive hide nor in his clumsy foot, but in the way he will lift his foot if a child lies in his way, and in his sensitive trunk and still more sensitive mind and capability of pique on points of honor. Hence it will follow that one of the probable signs of high breeding in men generally, will be their kindness and mercifulness, these always indicating more or less firmness of make in the mind."

Can any one fancy what our society might be, if all its members were perfect gentlemen and true ladies, if all the inhabitants of the earth were kind-hearted; if, instead of contending with the faults of our fellows we were each to wage war against our own faults? Every one needs to guard constantly against the evil from within as well as from without, for as has been truly said, "a man's greatest foe dwells in his own heart."

A recent English writer says: "Etiquette 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." While the social observances, customs and rules which have grown up are numerous, and some perhaps considered trivial, they are all grounded upon principles of kindness to one another, and spring from the impulses of a good heart and from friendly feelings. The truly polite man acts from the highest and noblest ideas of what is right.

"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."
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." Again he 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."
Our Manners


The success or failure of one's plans have often turned upon the address and manner of the man.
One quality of the mind and heart is more important as an element conducive to worldly success than civility—that feeling of kindness and love for our fellow-beings which is expressed in pleasing manners. Yet how many of our young men, with an affected contempt for the forms and conventionalities of life, assume to despise those delicate attentions, that exquisite tenderness of thought and manner, that mark the true gentleman.

MANNERS AS AN ELEMENT OF SUCCESS


History repeats, over and over again, examples showing that it is the bearing of a man toward his fellow-men which, more than any other one quality of his nature, promotes or retards his advancement in life. The success or failure of one's plans have often turned upon the address and manner of the man. Though there are a few people who can look beyond the rough husk or shell of a fellow-being to the finer qualities hidden within, yet the vast majority, not so keen-visaged nor tolerant, judge a person by his appearance and demeanor, more than by his substantial character. Experience of every day life teaches us, if we would but learn, that civility is not only one of the essentials of high success, but that it is almost a fortune of itself, and that he who has this quality in perfection, though a blockhead, is almost sure to succeed where, without it, even men of good ability fail.

A good manner is the best letter of recommendation among strangers. Civility, refinement and gentleness are passports to hearts and homes, while awkwardness, coarseness and gruffness are met with locked doors and closed hearts. Emerson says: "Give a boy address and accomplishments, and you give him the mastery of palaces and fortunes wherever he goes; he has not the trouble of earning or owning them; they solicit him to enter and possess."

In every class of life, in all professions and occupations, good manners are necessary to success. The business man has no stock-in-trade that pays him better than a good address. If the retail dealer wears his hat on his head in the presence of ladies who come to buy of him, if he does not see that the heavy door of his shop is opened and closed for them, if he seats himself in their presence, if he smokes a pipe or cigar, or has a chew of tobacco in his mouth, while talking with them, or is guilty of any of the small incivilities of life, they will not be apt to make his shop a rendezvous, no matter how attractive the goods he displays.

A telling preacher in his opening remarks gains the good will of his hearers, and makes them feel both that he has something to say, and that he can say it, by his manner. The successful medical man inspires in his patients belief in his sympathy, and confidence in his skill, by his manner. The lawyer, in pleading a case before a jury, and remembering that the passions and prejudices of the jurymen govern them to as great an extent as pure reason, must not be forgetful of his manner, if he would bring them to his own way of thinking. And how often does the motto, "Manners make the man," govern both parties in matters of courtship, the lady giving preference to him whose manners indicate a true nobility of the soul, and the gentleman preferring her who displays in her manner a gentleness of spirit.

MANNERS AN INDEX OF CHARACTER


A rude person, though well meaning, is avoided by all. Manners, in fact, are minor morals; and a rude person is often assumed to be a bad person. The manner in which a person says or does a thing, furnishes a better index of his character than what he does or says, for it is by the incidental expression given to his thoughts and feelings, by his looks, tones and gestures, rather than by his words and deeds, that we prefer to judge him, for the reason that the former are involuntary. The manner in which a favor is granted or a kindness done, often affects us more than the deed itself. The deed may have been prompted by vanity, pride, or some selfish motive or interest; the warmth or coldness with which the person who has done it speaks to you, or grasps your hand, is less likely to deceive. The manner of doing any thing, it has been truly said, is that which stamps its life and character on any action. A favor may be performed so grudgingly as to prevent any feeling of obligation, or it may be refused so courteously as to awaken more kindly feelings than if it had been ungraciously granted.


 
"Whenever the young find themselves in the company of those who do not make them feel at ease, they should know that they are not in the society of true ladies and true gentlemen, but of pretenders..."

THE TRUE GENTLEMAN

Politeness is benevolence in small things. A true gentleman must regard the rights and feelings of others, even in matters the most trivial. He respects the individuality of others, just as he wishes others to respect his own. In society he is quiet, easy, unobtrusive, putting on no airs, nor hinting by word or manner that he deems himself better, or wiser, or richer than any one about him. He never boasts of his achievements, or fishes for compliments by affecting to underrate what he has done. He is distinguished, above all things, by his deep insight and sympathy, his quick perception of, and prompt attention to, those small and apparently insignificant things that may cause pleasure or pain to others. In giving his opinions he does not dogmatize; he listens patiently and respectfully to other men, and, if compelled to dissent from their opinions, acknowledges his fallibility and asserts his own views in such a manner as to command the respect of all who hear him. Frankness and cordiality mark all his intercourse with his fellows, and, however high his station, the humblest man feels instantly at ease in his presence.



Hugh Jackman, a true gentleman


Audrey Hepburn, a true lady
Aishwarya Rai, a true lady
Lena Horne, a true lady
Sidney Poitier, a true gentleman

THE TRUE LADY

Calvert says: "Ladyhood is an emanation from the heart subtilized by culture;" giving as two requisites for the highest breeding, transmitted qualities and the culture of good training. He continues: "Of the higher type of ladyhood may always be said what Steele said of Lady Elizabeth Hastings, 'that unaffected freedom and conscious innocence gave her the attendance of the graces in all her actions.' At its highest, ladyhood implies a spirituality made manifest in poetic grace. From the lady there exhales a subtle magnetism. Unconsciously she encircles herself with an atmosphere of unruffled strength, which, to those who come into it, gives confidence and repose. Within her influence the diffident grow self-possessed, the impudent are checked, the inconsiderate are admonished; even the rude are constrained to be mannerly, and the refined are perfected; all spelled, unawares, by the flexible dignity, the commanding gentleness, the thorough womanliness of her look, speech and demeanor. A sway is this, purely spiritual. Every sway, every legitimate, every enduring sway is spiritual; a regnancy of light over obscurity, of right over brutality. The only real gains ever made are spiritual gains—a further subjection of the gross to the incorporeal, of body to soul, of the animal to the human. The finest and most characteristic acts of a lady involve a spiritual ascension, a growing out of herself. In her being and bearing, patience, generosity, benignity are the graces that give shape to the virtues of truthfulness."

Here is the test of true ladyhood. Whenever the young find themselves in the company of those who do not make them feel at ease, they should know that they are not in the society of true ladies and true gentlemen, but of pretenders; that well-bred men and women can only feel at home in the society of the well-bred.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRIFLES


Some people are wont to depreciate these kind and tender qualities as trifles; but trifles, it must be remembered, make up the aggregate of human life. The petty incivilities, slight rudenesses and neglects of which men are guilty, without thought, or from lack of foresight or sympathy, are often remembered, while the great acts performed by the same persons are often forgotten. There is no society where smiles, pleasant looks and animal spirits are not welcomed and deemed of more importance than sallies of wit, or refinements of understanding. The little civilities, which form the small change of life may appear separately of little moment, but, like the spare pennies which amount to such large fortunes in a lifetime, they owe their importance to repetition and accumulation.

VALUE OF PLEASING MANNERS


The man who succeeds in any calling in life is almost invariably he who has shown a willingness to please and to be pleased, who has responded heartily to the advances of others, through nature and habit, while his rival has sniffed and frowned and snubbed away every helping hand. "The charming manners of the Duke of Marlborough," it is said, "often changed an enemy to a friend, and to be denied a favor by him was more pleasing than to receive one from another. It was these personal graces that made him both rich and great. His address was so exquisitely fascinating as to dissolve fierce jealousies and animosities, lull suspicion and beguile the subtlest diplomacy of its arts. His fascinating smile and winning tongue, equally with his sharp sword, swayed the destinies of empires." The gracious manners of Charles James Fox preserved him from personal dislike, even when he had gambled away his last shilling, and politically, was the most unpopular man in England.

MANNERS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE


A charming manner not only enhances personal beauty, but even hides ugliness and makes plainness agreeable. An ill-favored countenance is not necessarily a stumbling-block, at the outset, to its owner, which cannot be surmounted, for who does not know how much a happy manner often does to neutralize the ill effects of forbidding looks? The fascination of the demagogue Wilkes's manner triumphed over both physical and moral deformity, rendering even his ugliness agreeable; and he boasted to Lord Townsend, one of the handsomest men in Great Britain, that "with half an hour's start he would get ahead of his lordship in the affections of any woman in the kingdom." The ugliest Frenchman, perhaps, that ever lived was Mirabeau; yet such was the witchery of his manner, that the belt of no gay Lothario was hung with a greater number of bleeding female hearts than this "thunderer of the tribune," whose looks were so hideous that he was compared to a tiger pitted with the small-pox.

FORTUNES MADE BY PLEASING MANNERS


Pleasing manners have made the fortunes of men in all professions and in every walk of life—of lawyers, doctors, clergymen, merchants, clerks and mechanics—and instances of this are so numerous that they may be recalled by almost any person. The politician who has the advantage of a courteous, graceful and pleasing manner finds himself an easy winner in the race with rival candidates, for every voter with whom he speaks becomes instantly his friend. Civility is to a man what beauty is to a woman. It creates an instantaneous impression in his behalf, while gruffness or coarseness excites as quick a prejudice against him. It is an ornament, worth more as a means of winning favor than the finest clothes and jewels ever worn. Lord Chesterfield said the art of pleasing is, in truth, the art of rising, of distinguishing one's self, of making a figure and a fortune in the world. Some years ago a drygoods salesman in a London shop had acquired such a reputation for courtesy and exhaustless patience, that it was said to be impossible to provoke from him any expression of irritability, or the smallest symptom of vexation. A lady of rank learning of his wonderful equanimity, determined to put it to the test by all the annoyances with which a veteran shop-visitor knows how to tease a shopman. She failed in her attempt to vex or irritate him, and thereupon set him up in business. He rose to eminence in trade, and the main spring of his later, as of his earlier career, was politeness. Hundreds of men, like this salesman, have owed their start in life wholly to their pleasing address and manners.

CULTIVATION OF GOOD MANNERS


The cultivation of pleasing, affable manners should be an important part of the education of every person of whatever calling or station in life. Many people think that if they have only the substance, the form is of little consequence. But manners are a compound of spirit and form—spirit acted into form. The first law of good manners, which epitomizes all the rest is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." True courtesy is simply the application of this golden rule to all our social conduct, or, as it has been happily defined, "real kindness, kindly expressed." It may be met in the hut of the Arab, in the courtyard of the Turk, in the hovel of the freedman, and the cottage of the Irishman. Even Christian men sometimes fail in courtesy, deeming it a mark of weakness, or neglecting it from mere thoughtlessness. Yet when we find this added to the other virtues of the Christian, it will be noted that his influence for good upon others has been powerfully increased, for it was by this that he obtained access to the hearts of others. An old English writer said reverently of our Saviour: "He was the first true gentleman that ever lived." The influence of many good men would be more than doubled if they could manage to be less stiff and more elastic. Gentleness in society, it has been truly said, "is like the silent influence of light which gives color to all nature; it is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more fruitful. It pushes its way silently and persistently like the tiniest daffodil in spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistence of growing."

POLITENESS


Politeness is kindness of manner. This is the outgrowth of kindness of heart, of nobleness, and of courage. But in some persons we find an abundance of courage, nobleness and kindness of heart, without kindness of manner, and we can only think and speak of them as not only impolite, but even rude and gruff. Such a man was Dr. Johnson, whose rudeness secured for him the nickname of Ursa Major, and of whom Goldsmith truthfully remarked, "No man alive has a more tender heart; he has nothing of the bear about him but his skin." To acquire that ease and grace of manners which is possessed by and which distinguishes every well-bred person, one must think of others rather than of himself, and study to please them even at his own inconvenience. "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you"—the golden rule of life—is also the law of politeness, and such politeness implies self-sacrifice, many struggles and conflicts. It is an art and tact, rather than an instinct and inspiration. An eminent divine has said: "A noble and attractive every-day bearing comes of goodness, of sincerity, of refinement. And these are bred in years, not moments. The principle that rules our life is the sure posture-master. Sir Philip Sidney was the pattern to all England of a perfect gentleman; but then he was the hero that, on the field of Zutphen, pushed away the cup of cold water from his own fevered and parched lips, and held it out to the dying soldier at his side." A Christian by the very conditions of his creed, and the obligations of his faith is, of necessity, in mind and soul—and therefore in word and act—a gentleman, but a man may be polite without being a Christian. — 
Our Deportment, 1881



Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia Etiquette Encyclopedia