Friday, April 3, 2015

Regency Era Etiquette for the Sick

Of Duties Toward the Sick, Infirm, and Unfortunate

Victorian Era and Edwardian Era, Medicine Spoons and Invalid Spoons

The Unfortunate

Propriety, the guide of all our relations, cannot remain a stranger to the unfortunate; that which takes possession of all our sentiments, cannot forget to pity. It is in this light that it is peculiarly touching, that it is almost religious, since it even contributes to bind closer this first, this powerful tie of humanity.
Silver Georgian Era medicine spoon (circa 1755), shown front and back, with a green case, inscribed ‘Gift of the Dutchess of Queensberry to Lady Carbery’; an ‘S’ engraved on the stem for ‘Stafford’, Lady Carbery’s maiden name. The modest silver spoon makes for an intriguing part of the Symons Collection at the Royal College of Physicians in England
                 
The Sick and the Infirm

When any one of your acquaintance is ill, you should regularly send a domestic, to inquire after their health, every day, or every other day, according to the virulence and nature of the disease. If there is immediate danger, we should send to inquire even twice a day. From time to time, you should send to know whether the sick person can see any one, because in that case you must go and testify in person, all your interest. You should continue to obtain information about their health until their recovery or death.

Our visits to the sick should be very short, silent, and reserved. We should address to them words of interest in a low voice, and speak softly to the member of the family who takes charge of them. We ask him who is his physician, what is the treatment; we urge every motive of consolation and hope; we ought hardly to reply to the questions the person in attendance asks, with regard to our own health, or business, and we retire reiterating the proofs of our interest. 
                          
A patented improvement made for medicine spoons, 1873
If the person is convalescent or only indisposed, you address a thousand questions concerning their complaints; you sympathize with them, praise their patience, and describe to them the pleasant image of returning health. You must be on your guard not to say that you find their features much changed, that their recovery may be slow, etc...

To speak these truths is very malapropos, and with reason; you would pass for having an unfeeling heart, or rather, a limited understanding. When sufferings and troubles assume a virulent aspect, and resist all the efforts of medical skill, they are infirmities indeed, and a silence the most absolute and rigorous with respect to them, should be observed.

Not only ought you never to speak to an infirm person of his misfortune, but you should also carefully avoid mentioning any person who is afflicted in the same way, and of thus alluding indirectly to his own case. The only occasion when this is allowed, is where you can make it appear to him that the comforts of which he is deprived are not so permanent but that you have experienced similar inconveniences from the same cause.                        

Victorian era photo of a baby given medicine ~ Young, old or in-between, feeding and giving medicines to the infirm, has always been difficult.

Thus to a lame person, you might say that you yourself are fatigued with walking, that your own legs are not firm, etc... If the infirmity is not too visible, and the poor subject speaks to you of it, assure him earnestly that you should not have observed it. If he complains to you, offer him motives of consolation, and take care that you change the subject of conversation before he does, for you might make him think that you are importuning him about his malady. 

Finally, do all in your power to comfort him. If he is afflicted with imperfect sight, place objects near him, but without affectation, and without having the air of making him think that he requires your assistance, neither permit him to thank you. If he is troubled with deafness, you must not speak unreasonably loud; bring back the attention of the unfortunate person to the subject of your conversation by skilful and delicate transitions, and not abruptly say to him, We were speaking of such a thing. This is much trouble, perhaps you will say. Trouble to console people! Why, you take more to please them!

The etiquette and manners for dealing with the infirm or injured, has not changed much over the centuries.

Persons who are reduced in circumstances, keep up in their misfortune (at least in society) their habits of opulence; and to manage with such persons requires not a little skill. If they invite you to their frugal repasts, if they offer you any presents, let not the fear of occasioning them expense, induce you to refuse with warmth, and with obstinacy; you would wound them deeply. Accept them, and seek an opportunity of repaying with interest, these proofs of their politeness. 

Do not speak to them first of their sad situation; but if they introduce the subject themselves, receive their confidence with a respectful and affectionate attention. Show how much you are affected with that which grieves them, and without forgetting discretion, endeavor, in appearance at least, to render them confidence for confidence.


From “The Gentleman and Lady's Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes.” by Elisabeth Celnart, translated from the Sixth, Paris Edition, 1833


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