Friday, April 17, 2015

Etiquette and 19th C. Italian Youth

"The Grand Duchess sent for her daughter, a girl of 17, who had been to her first ball the night before, but was not yet considered as having "come out." After presenting her, during the chat that ensued she was required by her mother to stand, while we remained seated, which to my American notions and experience of the homage paid by their elders to our young girls, seemed to me quite an awkward and painful reversal of the proper order of things." 

How Italians Educate Their Children:

A regimen which gives prominence to fine manners, free intercourse of the different classes in Italy, and why it pays to be polite.   
Where every one obeys its rules it allows a more familiar and genial intercourse between all ages and conditions of society...

Italian children are drilled in society manners as soon as they can toddle about. Especially are they taught deference and polite attention to ladies and older persons. Complimentary phrases of speech, and an easy, graceful demeanor become as natural to them in a short time as to their parents. Too much stress in comparison with more important things in no doubt is attached to etiquette alone. But where every one obeys its rules it allows a more familiar and genial intercourse between all ages and conditions of society than when there is no prescribed code of manners to emeliorate social contrast and protect individual position, and everybody is on the defensive lest the artificial barriers of differing social positions be invaded.

A state of society in consequence has been long established that admits and encourages pleasant but respectful familiarity between the varied ranks of the population. I will illustrate the practical working of this system in Italy. One of the ancient palaces in my vicinity is occupied by several families of the nobility. In the upper story there is a girl's school for children of the better classes. The daughter of the porter of the palace is received in it without pay, given the same advantages as the daughters of the Countesses and the Marquises her father served, and, treated precisely the same by all, is spared those petty but spirit-wounding reminders of social distinctions and pretensions with which

Anglo-Saxon girls delight to afflict those they assume to look down upon. Another school girl, of similarly humble position, is frequently invited by one of the noble ladies to be the companion of her daughter when she visits her villa during the vacations, partaking of all her privileges. Of course, such familiar intercourse can exist with mutual advantage, and no confusion of the essential proprieties of life, only in a country where society is on an established basis, and the refinement, and polish that belong more particularly to the more favored individuals extend to the less fortunate and become the rule of all. 
19th century Italian women with their children ~ "Italian children are drilled in society manners as soon as they can toddle about. Especially are they taught deference and polite attention to ladies and older persons."
Royalty is perhaps the most rigid of all the ranks in exacting obedience in children to those rules of etiquette which are considered proper to their age, without regard to their future position. On one occasion, when, by request, I had called on the sister of one of the great sovereigns of Europe, the conversation turned on children. The Grand Duchess sent for her daughter, a girl of 17, who had been to her first ball the night before, but was not yet considered as having "come out." After presenting her, during the chat that ensued she was required by her mother to stand, while we remained seated, which to my American notions and experience of the homage paid by their elders to our young girls, seemed to me quite an awkward and painful reversal of the proper order of things. But I am now persuaded that the European system of discipline of youth, in parting it in seasoned self-restraint, and deference to age, is more salutary to character than the license to self-indulgence not only tolerated but encouraged in America.

Anglo-Saxons, for sanitary reasons, do not permit their children to keep late hours with their elders, eat late meals and go to late amusements, as do Italians, no doubt prematurely maturing the minds and customs of their offspring at the expense of health. Apart from these cogent considerations, the habit of constant familiar intercourse with their parents and elders gives them a quiet, respectful demeanor, and puts them at their ease in any society. Early accustomed to be noticed and praised for good looks, behavior, or points of dress, they seek to emulate the aesthetic style of the adult society of which they make a part.
Socially, an accomplished Italian is, undoubtedly, more or less of an actor, but in legitimately seeking to please he pays a complement to society and an homage to virtue.
According to our ideas, no doubt they often seem tame and colorless, or else unnaturally restrained in one direction and developed in another; but they are early fitted for their future positions without disturbance to the social machinery about them. At their ease and self-reliant in society, when Anglo-Saxon children would be constrained or awkward, they lose much in other respects, in force of character, independence, and self judgment, where initiative action is required, in which essential points American youth excel. The social restraints, narrowness of intercourse, and excessive formula of etiquette a fashionable Italian life, with its extremes of bigotry or atheistical materialism, would ill suit the Anglo-Saxon freer spirit, greater breadth of view and latitude of personal action.


Socially, an accomplished Italian is, undoubtedly, more or less of an actor, but in legitimately seeking to please he pays a complement to society and an homage to virtue. There are instances, doubtless, in which skillful acting is a hypocritical pretense to cover up some base end, but such are the exceptions to a general rule of politeness which is based on the genuine disposition to please and be pleased in social intercourse.






Article Originally Published in the NY Times, Sent From Florence, Italy, 
August 10, 1880, by James Jackson Jarves




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