Etiquette THESE pages have been prepared for those who are striving to improve themselves in exterior polish, and to add to their stock of information concerning the subjects upon which it treats. It has not been written for those who have been trained in the best usages of society from their infancy; nor for those who learned politeness at the same time that they mastered the alphabet; but for the less favored of both sexes in our land, who are desirous of obtaining a knowledge of the etiquette which governs social intercourse, and are desirous of cultivating both politeness and good-breeding. Its instructions are perfectly plain, practical and simple — so simple that many persons may incline to ridicule them. But only in this way can we convey information to the many who are desirous of receiving it. Etiquette has been define as a code of laws which binds society together — viewless as the wind — and yet exercising a vast influence upon the well-being of mankind.
These laws were instituted during the days ancient chivalry, but as years have flown they have been modified in a great degree, many of them being quite obsolete and others entirely changed. Some, however, have been but slightly varied, to suit the times, being governed by the laws of good taste and common sense, and these not only facilitate the intercourse of persons in society, but are also essential to their ease and composure of manner. And manners, said the eloquent Edmund Burke, are of more importance than laws, for upon them in a great measure the laws depend. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine, by a constant, steady, uniform and insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.
It is often said that such a man’s pleasant, affable manners made his fortune. And it is a truth that politeness and good-breeding go far towards forming both a man and a woman’s reputation, and stamp upon them, as it were, their current value, in the circles wherein they move. Agreeable manners are very frequently the fruits of a good heart, and then they will surely please, even though they may lack somewhat of graceful, courtly polish. There is hardly any thing of greater importance to children of either sex than good-breeding; and if parents and teachers would perform their duties faithfully, there would not be so much complaint concerning the manners of the American child of the period. BE COURTEOUS, it is an apostolical injunction which we should ever bear in mind.
Let us train up our children to behave at home as we would have them act abroad; for we may be certain that, while they are children, they will conduct themselves abroad as they have been in the habit of doing, under similar circumstances at home. The new version of Solomon’s proverb is said to run thus: — Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will go on training. But it is open to several definitions. Enter a home where the parents are civil and courteous towards all within the family circle — whether guests or constant inmates — and you will see that their children are the same; that good manners are learned quite as much by imitation as by fixed rules or principles. Go into a family where the parents are rude, ill-bred and indulge in disputations and unkind remarks, and you will find the children are rough, uncouth and bearish.
Good manners are not merely conventional rules, but are founded upon reason and good sense and are, therefore, most worthy of the consideration of all; and there are many points of good-breeding which neither time nor place will ever change, because they are founded upon a just regard of man for man. We frequently hear these questions asked: Who is a lady? and who is a gentleman? The answers may be difficult to supply on account of the great difference of opinion in various classes of society, upon this subject. Some would declare that position, advantageous surroundings, great riches, high birth, or superior intelligence and education, gave the requisites; but all of our readers know of persons who possess some one or more of these advantages, and yet they cannot lay true claims to this desirable and distinctive appellation. Hence we frequently hear these words — Ah! she is no lady! or, Indeed, he is no gentleman! applied to those whose standing is high; who possess much wealth; or are endowed with genius; but have neglected to add to their other advantages the touchstone of politeness and good-breeding. Our reply to the question is that a well-bred lady is one who to true modesty and refinement, adds a scrupulous attention to the rights and feelings of those with whom she associates, whether they are rich or poor, and who is the same both in the kitchen or parlor.
We recall the praise given by an Irishman to a friend of ours, when he said: — Troth an’ indade ma’am, jist as ye see her in the parlor, we sees her in the kitchen. Niver a cross word passes her lips, be it to rich or poor, servant or friend. This is a high meed of praise — and when a courtly address and ease of manner are added to it, we behold a true lady. Can we answer the other question? We will try. Whoever is true, loyal and sincere; whoever is of a humane and affable demeanor, and courteous to all; whoever is honorable in himself, and in his judgment of others, and requires no law but his word to hold him to his engagements; — such a man is a gentleman, — whether he be dressed in broadcloth and in fine linen or be clad in a blue homespun frock; — whether his hands are white and soft, or hardened and stained with drudgery and toil.
In a recent address made by the Bishop of Manchester, England, before the Y.M.C.S. of Leeds, he said Some people think a gentleman means a man of independent fortune — a man who fares sumptuously every day; a man who need not labor for his daily bread. None of these make a gentleman — not one of them — nor all of them together. I have known men when I was brought closer in contact with working men than I am brought now; I have known men of the roughest exterior, who had been used all their lives to follow the plough and to look after horses, as thorough gentlemen in heart as any nobleman who ever wore a ducal coronet. I mean I have known them as unselfish, I have known them as truthful, I have known them as sympathizing; and all these qualities go to make what I understand by the term ‘a gentleman.’ It is …