Sunday, October 5, 2014

19th C. Etiquette and Chivalry on the Rails

"Railroad Etiquette and Chivalry"

"One of those occasions which now and then permits the sterling temper of chivalry to display itself, happened the other night on the railroad between New York City and Philadelphia. At New Brunswick, where passengers are apt to slip out in search of a cup of coffee, or a glass of more stirring stimulus, Mr. Fayette McMullen, of Virginia, left his seat in charge of an umbrella, while he refreshed himself at the counter. A Mr. Titsworth, of Plainfield, entered with his lady during his absence, and occupied the seat. Mr. McMullen requested Mr. Titsworth to give up the seat, which the latter, yielding to the entreaty of his companion, finally consented to do; but not without informing the Virginian of what might seem an obvious fact, that he (McMullen,) was no gentleman. Mr. McMullen, after the passengers had taken the boat at Tacony, encountered Mr. Titsworth again, and smarting under the imputation of ungentlemanly behavior, demanded an apology from the Jerseyman. It was not only refused, but the charge was distinctly repeated; whereupon chivalry applied his cane to the offender's shoulders, and would unquestionably have received an active return-fire but for the interference of the spectators. Mr. McMullen, who is a member of Congress, has been bound over in the sum of $1000 to answer for the assault.
Politeness consists of a good nature that cannot be ruffled, and a cheerful forgetfulness of self, that throws petty annoyances to one side, as the spray is flung off by the ship.
The rules of etiquette that should govern in travel are too indefinite to admit of dictation on the part of any individual. Of the right a traveler may have to reclaim an abandoned seat, views are undetermined. A through passenger, who leaves his seat, and marks of ownership upon it, would certainly seem to have a right paramount to that of an interloping way-traveler. So far had the affair of been simply between one gentleman and another, Mr. McMullen would perhaps have been perfectly correct. But it was not. There was a lady interested; and every rule of gentlemanly propriety requires that rights, however unimpeachable, should in such case, be relinquished. The presence of a lady ought to have shielded her escort from insult; and the blow, which might have deprived her of escort, can hardly be excused. Under ordinary social rules, therefore, we think Mr. McMullen is clearly condemned.

To show what he should have done to rid himself of Mr. Titsworth epithet, we have only to imagine the behavior of the gentleman under the circumstances. Finding his seat so occupied by a gentleman and a lady, apparently traveling together, he should have politely and blandly withdrawn, submitting to any self-negation rather than enter into a violent controversy in a public place, and upon such premises. No inducement could have persuaded a gentleman to take the exacting course he thought proper to pursue and his subsequent conduct places him out of the reach of excuse. Mr. Titsworth, it may be added, would have been in a better position to call Mr. McMullen in question, had he vacated the seat at the first intimation of the latter's proprietorship.

There never need be any casuistry about the duty of a gentleman in a railway car or anywhere else, so long as we remember that politeness consists of a good nature that cannot be ruffled, and a cheerful forgetfulness of self, that throws petty annoyances to one side, as the spray is flung off by the ship.

From the NY Times, 1852