Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wise Words; Lillian Eichler's "Book of Etiquette"

"The power of manners is incessant -- an element as unconcealable as fire. The nobility cannot in any country be disguised, and no more in a republic or a democracy than in a kingdom. There are certain manners which are learned in good society, of that force that, if a person have them, he or she must be considered, and is everywhere welcome, though without beauty, or wealth, or genius." From "Emerson's Essays"

From "BOOK OF ETIQUETTE" by Lillian Eichler, 1921


At a meeting of army officers during the Civil War, one of them began to relate a questionable story, remarking, as if to excuse his lack of good taste, that "there were no ladies present."  General Grant, who was acting as chairman of the meeting, remarked, "No, but there are gentlemen" --and he refused to allow the officer to continue the story.

What is a gentleman?  The question is an old one.  It cannot be ancestry, for often the son of most noble and honored parentage is merely a coarse compound of clay and money, offered to society as a gentleman.  It cannot be dress--for surely Beau Brummell was not what the world loves to call a gentleman, despite his stiffly starched cravats and brightly polished boots. It cannot be money, for then many a common thief, made wealthy by his ill-gotten gains, would be entitled to the name of gentleman.

No, it is something that goes deeper than ancestry or dress or wealth--something that is nobler and finer than any, or all, of these. Perhaps it can be best expressed by this beautiful example of what true etiquette can mean:

Henry Ward Beecher, on a very cold day, stopped to buy a newspaper from a ragged youngster who stood shivering on a corner. "Poor little fellow," he said, "aren't you cold standing here?" The boy looked up with a smile and said, "I was, sir--before you passed."

The word "etiquette" itself does not mean very much. It comes from the same origin as the word "ticket" and originally meant the rules of court ceremony printed on tickets that were given to each person presented at court. But through generations the ideal of perfected culture surged, until to-day we have a code of manners that is the pride and inspiration of refined living.
"Henry Ward Beecher, on a very cold day, stopped to buy a newspaper from a ragged youngster who stood shivering on a corner. 'Poor little fellow,' he said, 'aren't you cold standing here?' The boy looked up with a smile and said, 'I was, sir--before you passed.'" Henry Ward Beecher was a prominent Congregationalist clergyman, abolitionist, social reformer and speaker in mid-late 19th century.


Etiquette, after all, is not the finished work, but merely a tool that opens the portals to a broader life, to a greater social happiness.  Through its influence we are brought into close companionship with the really worth-while minds of our day. By faithful constancy to its rules we gradually mold our characters until, in our outward dignity and charm, the world reads and understands our ideals.

There is in every human nature the desire for social happiness --which is, frankly, in other words, the desire so to impress by one's manner that one will be welcome and respected wherever one chances to be. And it is only by adhering to the fundamental laws of good society that this social happiness can ever be attained.

In observing the established etiquette of modern society it is necessary to pay particular attention to one's appearance, manner, and speech. It must be remembered that the world is a harsh judge and isperfectly willing to condemn us by outward appearances. In the street-car, in the ball-room, at the theater -- every day people are reading the story of our characters and ideals.

Society has its own definite code of manners that must be observed before one can enter its portals. There are certain rules that must be followed before one can enter its envied circle. There are conventionalities that must be observed in requesting a lady to dance, in acknowledging an introduction, in using the knife and fork at the dinner table. There are certain prevailing modes in dressing for the theater and reception. To know and adhere to these laws is to be admitted to the highest society and enjoy the company of the most brilliant minds.
"Black and White Beaux" depiction,  NYC 1832
Etiquette is an art -- the art of doing and saying the correct thing at the correct time -- the art of being able to hold oneself always in hand, no matter how exacting the circumstance. And like music or painting or writing, the more you study it, the more you apply yourself to its principles, the more perfectly your own character is molded.

He may be greatly enthusiastic about some unexpected happening, but he never becomes excited, never loses control of his reasoning faculties.
The cultured man is never angry, never impatient, never demonstrative. His actions and speech are tempered with a dispassionate calmness and tranquility that the French admiringly call "sang froid." He knows how to control his emotions so effectively that no one can read, in his self-possessed expression, whether he is angry or pleased, discouraged or eager.

Perhaps the most striking and admirable thing about a man of breeding is his carefully disciplined impulses. He may at times lose control of himself, but he is never petulant, never incoherent. He may be greatly enthusiastic about some unexpected happening, but he never becomes excited, never loses control of his reasoning faculties. He never gives the appearance of being in a hurry, no matter how swift his actions may be--there is always about him the suggestion of leisure and poise.

Swearing is essentially vulgar.  It was Dr. Crane, the famous essayist and philosopher, who said in one of his delightful talks, "The superior man is gentle. It is only the man with a defective vocabulary that swears.  All noise is waste.  The silent sun is mightier than the whirlwind. The genuine lady speaks low.  The most striking characteristic of the superior ones is their quiet, their poise. They have about them a sense of the stars." Strong feeling, anger, have no place in the social life.

We are all uneasy at times. We all have our embarrassing moments. But the well-bred person knows how to conceal his emotions, and impulses, so well that no one but himself knows that he is uneasy or embarrassed. It is not only exceedingly unpleasant, but it is also very poor form to show by our gestures and frowns and speech that we are annoyed by some circumstance that is entirely beyond our control.

Impulsiveness is often the cause of serious breaches of etiquette -- breaches that are, socially speaking, the ruin of many a rising young man, of many an otherwise charming young woman. The gentleman never shows by hasty word or angry glance that he is displeased with some service. The lady never shows, either in her speech or manner, that she is excited with some unexpected happening, or disappointed because something did not happen the way she planned it. It is only by studying the rules of etiquette and knowing absolutely what is right to do and say under all conditions that one acquires this splendid self-possession and composure of manner.


William DeWitt Hyde was an American college president. He graduated from Harvard University in 1879 and Andover Theological Seminary in 1882He wrote the book "Practical Ethics"
William De Witt Hyde, in his book, "Practical Ethics," says, "Politeness is proper respect for human personality. Rudeness results from thinking exclusively about ourselves and caring nothing for the feelings of anybody else.  The sincere desire to bring the greatest pleasure and least pain to everyone we meet will go a long way towards making our manners more polite and courteous."

The man or woman who is truly cultured, truly well-bred, tries to make everyone happy and at ease. It is only the exceedingly vulgar person who finds pleasure in hurting the feelings of the people with whom he comes into contact. It makes no difference how wealthy or how poor a person is, how ignorant or educated he happens to be--as a fellow-being he is entitled to a hearty sympathy and respect. Both servility and arrogance are ungentlemanly. Gentleness, simplicity and a sincere regard for the rights of one's companions are the distinguishing marks of a fine character.


There is no room for intolerance in the social world. To be honored, respected, one must have a certain friendliness of spirit. The gentleman, the lady treats everyone, from the lowliest beggar to the most distinguished personage with consideration. It is only the man who is unpretentious, who is always eager to please, who is as courteous and considerate in manner to his inferiors as to his equals, that fully deserves the name of gentleman.

The author recently chanced to witness an amusing incident which might be of value to repeat here. It shows forcibly how important the little things are, and how they reveal to the gaze of the world the true story of our actual worth:

An elderly man, who showed quite obviously by his lordly and self-satisfied manner that he was accustomed to travel about in his own car, was on one occasion forced to ride home in the subway. It was rush hour, and thousands of tired men and women were in a hurry to get home. The man impatiently waited his turn on a long line at the ticket office, constantly grumbling and making it disagreeable for those about him. When he finally did reach the window, he offered a ten dollar bill in payment for one five-cent ticket and deliberately remained at the window counting and recounting his change while the people behind him anxiously awaited their turn. When at last he did move away, he had a half smile, half frown of smug and malicious satisfaction on his face which, interpreted to the people he had kept waiting, said that he now felt repaid for having had to travel in the same train with them.

This man, in spite of his self-satisfied manner and well-tailored suit, was very far from being a gentleman. The shabby young man behind him, who also offered a bill in payment for his ticket, but stepped quickly to one side to count his change, and smiled cheerfully at the man behind him, was infinitely more of a gentleman than the one who maliciously, and with evident keen enjoyment, kept the long line waiting.

The true worth of a gentleman is revealed, not in his fashionable clothes or haughty demeanor, but in his regard for the rights of others. It is the little kindnesses that count -- and the instinctive recognition of the rights of others. As England's inimitable J. M. Barrie has so aptly remarked, "Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."

Miss Una Ware looks agreeable, but Mrs. Gorham Ware does not agreeable when meeting Mr. Bessemer Steele

Why should we know the laws of etiquette? Why should we know the way to do and say things? Why should we be agreeable? These are questions that will undoubtedly arise in the mind of the young man or woman who is eager to cultivate and refine his or her manner and speech.

The answer is: to make one's own life happier -- to bring into it a new sunshine, a new joy of living that was not even dreamed of when the mind and spirit were shrouded in the gloom of discourtesy, coarseness and vulgarity.

For how can the boor be happy? With his gloomy face, sour disposition, complaining habits and inherent lack of good taste and culture, he sees only the shadows of life. People are repulsed by him, never attracted. Brilliant men and women, people of refinement and taste, will have nothing to do with him. He lives his own life -- his ill-bred, complaining, gloomy, companionless life -- an outcast from that better society of which we all long to be a part.
Greer Garson always at her best, when in roles looking cultured and cheerful
Culture and cheer go hand-in-hand. The cultured man or woman is always cheerful, always finding something good and beautiful in all mankind and nature. Cheerfulness itself means poise -a wholesome, happy, undaunted poise that makes life well-balanced and worth the living. The person of low, vulgar tastes and desires is seldom contented, seldom happy. He finds everywhere evil, ugliness, selfishness, and a tendency for the world generally to degrade itself to the lower levels of coarseness. He finds it because he looks for it. And he looks for it because it already exists in his mind.

And yet, he may be educated; he may be a recognized power in the financial world; he may even possess enviable talents. But if he lacks that glorious open-hearted generosity, that sincere sympathy and simple understanding with all mankind, that helpful, healthful, ever-inspiring agreeableness of mind and spirit -- the world will have none of him.

The man who feels constantly grieved and injured at some injustice, real or imaginary, is sacrificing some of the best things life has to offer. He does not know what it means to be greeted with a smile of pleasure and a warm handclasp. He does not know what it means to be taken whole-heartedly into one's confidence, to be relied upon, to be appealed to. He does not know what it means, in his hours of darkest adversity, to receive the genuine sympathy and encouragement of a friend.

But with culture, with development of mind and spirit, with the desire to adhere truly to society's laws and regard as inviolable the rights of others, there comes a new understanding of human relationship. Where once everything seemed narrow and selfish, one now sees love and beauty and helpfulness. Instead of harsh words and unkind glances, there are words of cheer and encouragement, smiles of friendliness and understanding. The world that once seemed coarse, shallow and unpolished, seems now strangely cordial and polite.


Culture is of the heart and spirit rather than of the outward appearance. But it is by what we do and say that we prove that it truly exists within us.

Yes, it pays to be agreeable. We are all like huge magnets, and we tend to attract those things which we ourselves send out. If we are coarse and unrefined, we attract to our company those people who are also coarse and unrefined. If we are disagreeable and unmindful of the rights of others, they in turn will be disagreeable to us, and unmindful of our rights. And similarly, if we are kind and agreeable, we are bound to meet and attract people of the same kind.

There is a pretty little story of a woman and a child, in which the simple friendliness of a little girl opened the door for a woman whose life had been embittered by much hardship and disappointment. She was strolling one day through a mountain farm-house. She did not know where she was going, and she did not care. She just wanted to forget, forget.

She stopped near a well and gazed angrily about her, wondering how there could be so much peace and quiet in a world that held nothing but turmoil and heartache for her. She was an attractive woman, and her smart clothes and haughty bearing were a disappointing contrast to her scowling face and angry eyes.

Suddenly she glanced down. A tiny girl was watching her intently--a little girl who had lived all her seven short years in the untutored expanse of the mountains. The woman was annoyed, and she did not hesitate to show it.

"What are you looking at; what do you want?" she demanded irritably.

Instead of returning the frown, the child smiled and stepped a little closer. "I was just thinking how pretty your face would be if it smiled instead of frowned," she answered.

The woman's face relaxed. The bitter look in the eyes vanished and was replaced by a bright new light. The scowl became a grateful smile, and with an impulsive sob of pure joy, she knelt down and hugged the little girl who had been the first in a long time to speak gently to her, the first in a long time to return her frowns with sincere smiles of friendliness. And when she finally left the little child, and returned to the exacting conventionalities of the town, she was a nobler, better and finer woman.

The simple heart of a child who knew no other creed or law than the sincere love of all mankind triumphed over the bitterness of a woman who had known years of education and worldliness.

Culture is of the heart and spirit rather than of the outward appearance. But it is by what we do and say that we prove that it truly exists within us.

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