From The Gentleman’s Book Of Etiquette, and Manual Of Politeness – True to text.
Real politeness is the outward expression of the most generous impulses of the heart. It enforces unselfishness, benevolence, kindness, and the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would others should do unto you.” Thus its first principle is love for the neighbor, loving him as yourself.
When in society it would often be exceedingly difficult to decide how to treat those who are personally disagreeable to us, if it were not for the rules of politeness, and the little formalities and points of etiquette which these rules enforce. These evidences of polite breeding do not prove hypocrisy, as you may treat your most bitter enemy with perfect courtesy, and yet make no protestations of friendship.
If politeness is but a mask, as many philosophers tell us, it is a mask which will win love and admiration, and is better worn than cast aside. If you wear it with the sincere desire to give pleasure to others, and make all the little meetings of life pass off smoothly and agreeably, it will soon cease to be a mask, but you will find that the manner which you at first put on to give pleasure, has become natural to you, and wherever you have assumed a virtue to please others, you will find the virtue becoming habitual and finally natural, and part of yourself.
Do not look upon the rules of etiquette as deceptions. They are just as often vehicles for the expression of sincere feeling, as they are the mask to conceal a want of it.
You will in society meet with men who rail against politeness, and call it deceit and hypocrisy. Watch these men when they have an object to gain, or are desirous of making a favorable impression, and see them tacitly, but unconsciously, admit the power of courtesy, by dropping for the time, their uncouth ways, to affect the politeness, they oftentimes do not feel.
Pass over the defects of others, be prudent, discreet, at the proper time reserved, yet at other times frank, and treat others with the same gentle courtesy you would wish extended to yourself.
True politeness never embarrasses any one, because its first object is to put all at their ease, while it leaves to all perfect freedom of action. You must meet rudeness from others by perfect politeness and polish of manner on your own part, and you will thus shame those who have been uncivil to you. You will more readily make them blush by your courtesy, than if you met their rudeness by ill manners on your own part.
While a favor may be doubled in value, by a frankly courteous manner of granting it, a refusal will lose half its bitterness if your manner shows polite regret at your inability to oblige him who asks the favor at your hand.
Politeness may be extended to the lowest and meanest, and you will never by thus extending it detract from your own dignity. A gentleman may and will treat his washerwoman with respect and courtesy, and his boot-black with pleasant affability, yet preserve perfectly his own position. To really merit the name of a polite, finished gentleman, you must be polite at all times and under all circumstances.
There is a difference between politeness and etiquette. Real politeness is in-born, and may exist in the savage, while etiquette is the outward expression of politeness reduced to the rules current in good society.
A man may be polite, really so in heart, yet show in every movement an ignorance of the rules of etiquette, and offend against the laws of society. You may find him with his elbows upon the table, or tilting his chair in a parlor. You may see him commit every hour gross breaches of etiquette, yet you will never hear him intentionally utter one word to wound another, you will see that he habitually endeavors to make others comfortable, choosing for them the easiest seats, or the daintiest dishes, and putting self entirely aside to contribute to the pleasure of all around him. Such a man will learn, by contact with refined society, that his ignorance of the rules which govern it, make him, at times, disagreeable, and from the same unselfish motive which prompts him to make a sacrifice of comfort for the sake of others, he will watch and learn quickly, almost by instinct, where he offends against good breeding, drop one by one his errors in etiquette, and become truly a gentleman.
On the other hand, you will meet constantly, in the best society, men whose polish of
So I would say to you, Cultivate your heart. Cherish there the Christian graces, love for the neighbor, unselfishness, charity, and gentleness, and you will be truly a gentleman; add to these the graceful forms of etiquette, and you then become a perfect gentleman.
Etiquette exists in every corner of the known world, from the savages in the wilds of Africa, who dare not, upon penalty of death, approach their barbarous rulers without certain forms and ceremonies, to the most refined circles of Europe, where gentle chivalry and a cultivated mind suggest its rules. It has existed in all ages, and the stringency of its laws in some countries has given rise to both ludicrous and tragic incidents.
In countries where royalty rules the etiquette, it often happens that pride will blind those who make the rules, and the results are often fatal. Believing that the same deference which their rank authorized them to demand, was also due to them as individuals, the result of such an idea was an etiquette as vain and useless as it was absurd.
For an example I will give an anecdote:
“The kings of Spain, the proudest and vainest of all kings of the earth, made a rule of etiquette as stupid as it was useless. It was a fault punishable by death to touch the foot of the queen, and the individual who thus offended, no matter under what circumstances, was executed immediately.
“A young queen of Spain, wife of Charles the Second, was riding on horseback in the midst of her attendants. Suddenly the horse reared and threw the queen from the saddle. Her foot remained in the stirrup, and she was dragged along the ground. An immense crowd stood looking at this spectacle, but no one dared, for his life, to attempt to rescue the poor woman. She would have died, had not two young French officers, ignorant of the stupid law which paralyzed the Spaniards, sprung forward and saved her. One stopped the horse, and whilst he held the bridle, his companion disengaged from its painful position the foot of the young queen, who was, by this time, insensible from fear and the bruises which she had already received. They were instantly arrested, and while the queen was carried on a litter to the palace, her young champions were marched off, accompanied by a strong guard, to prison. The next day, sick and feeble, the queen was obliged to leave her bed, and on her knees before the king, plead for the pardon of the two Frenchmen; and her prayer was only granted upon condition that the audacious foreigners left Spain immediately.”
There is no country in the world where the absurdities of etiquette are carried to so great a length as in Spain, because there is no nation where the nobility are so proud. The following anecdote, which illustrates this, would seem incredible were it not a historical fact:
“Philip the Third, king of Spain, was sick, and being able to sit up, was carefully placed in an arm chair which stood opposite to a large fire, when the wood was piled up to an enormous height. The heat soon became intolerable, and the courtiers retired from around the king; but, as the Duke D’Ussede, the fire stirrer for the king, was not present, and as no one else had the right to touch the fire, those present dared not attempt to diminish the heat. The grand chamberlain was also absent, and he alone was authorized to touch the king’s footstool. The poor king, too ill to rise, in vain implored those around him to move his chair, no one dared touch it, and when the grand chamberlain arrived, the king had fainted with the heat, and a few days later he died, literally roasted to death.”
At almost all times, and in almost all places, good breeding may be shown; and we think a good service will be done by pointing out a few plain and simple instances in which it stands opposed to habits and manners, which, though improper and disagreeable, are not very uncommon.
In the familiar intercourse of society, a well-bred man will be known by the delicacy and deference with which he behaves towards females. That man would deservedly be looked upon as very deficient in proper respect and feeling, who should take any physical advantage of one of the weaker sex, or offer any personal slight towards her. Woman looks, and properly looks, for protection to man. It is the province of the husband to shield the wife from injury; of the father to protect the daughter; the brother has the same duty to perform towards the sister; and, in general, every man should, in this sense, be the champion and the lover of every woman. Not only should he be ready to protect, but desirous to please, and willing to sacrifice much of his own personal ease and comfort, if, by doing so, he can increase those of any female in whose company he may find himself. Putting these principles into practice, a well-bred man, in his own house, will be kind and respectful in his behaviour to every female of the family. He will not use towards them harsh language, even if called upon to express dissatisfaction with their conduct. In conversation, he will abstain from every allusion which would put modesty to the blush. He will, as much as in his power, lighten their labors by cheerful and voluntary assistance. He will yield to them every little advantage which may occur in the regular routine of domestic life:—the most comfortable seat, if there be a difference; the warmest position by the winter’s fireside; the nicest slice from the family joint, and so on.
In a public assembly of any kind, a well-bred man will pay regard to the feelings and wishes of the females by whom he is surrounded. He will not secure the best seat for himself, and leave the women folk to take care of themselves. He will not be seated at all, if the meeting be crowded, and a single female appear unaccommodated.
Good breeding will keep a person from making loud and startling noises, from pushing past another in entering or going out of a room; from ostentatiously using a pocket-handkerchief; from hawking and spitting in company; from fidgeting any part of the body; from scratching the head, or picking the teeth with fork or with finger. In short, it will direct all who study its rules to abstain from every personal act which may give pain or offence to another’s feelings. At the same time, it will enable them to bear much without taking offence. It will teach them when to speak and when to be silent, and how to behave with due respect to all. By attention to the rules of good breeding, and more especially to its leading principles, “the poorest man will be entitled to the character of a gentleman, and by inattention to them, the most wealthy person will be essentially vulgar. Vulgarity signifies coarseness or indelicacy of manner, and is not necessarily associated with poverty or lowliness of condition. Thus an operative artizan may be a gentleman, and worthy of our particular esteem; while an opulent merchant may be only a vulgar clown, with whom it is impossible to be on terms of friendly intercourse.”
The following remarks upon the “Character of a Gentleman” by Brooke are so admirable that I need make no apology for quoting them entire. He says; “There is no term, in our language, more common than that of ‘Gentleman;’ and, whenever it is heard, all agree in the general idea of a man some way elevated above the vulgar. Yet, perhaps, no two living are precisely agreed respecting the qualities they think requisite for constituting this character. When we hear the epithets of a ‘fine Gentleman,’ ‘a pretty Gentleman,’ ‘much of a Gentleman,’ ‘Gentlemanlike,’ ‘something of a Gentleman,’ ‘nothing of a Gentleman,’ and so forth; all these different appellations must intend a peculiarity annexed to the ideas of those who express them; though no two of them, as I said, may agree in the constituent qualities of the character they have formed in their own mind. There have been ladies who deemed fashionable dress a very capital ingredient in the composition of—a Gentleman. A certain easy impudence acquired by low people, by casually being conversant in high life, has passed a man current through many companies for—a Gentleman. In taverns and brothels, he who is the most of a bully is the most of—a Gentleman. And the highwayman, in his manner of taking your purse, may however be allowed to have—much of the Gentleman. Plato, among the philosophers, was ‘the most of a man of fashion;’ and therefore allowed, at the court of Syracuse, to be—the most of a Gentleman. But seriously, I apprehend that this character is pretty much upon the modern. In all ancient or dead languages we have no term, any way adequate, whereby we may express it. In the habits, manners, and characters of old Sparta and old Rome, we find an antipathy to all the elements of modern gentility. Among these rude and unpolished people, you read of philosophers, of orators, of patriots, heroes, and demigods; but you never hear of any character so elegant as that of—a pretty Gentleman.
“When those nations, however, became refined into what their ancestors would have called corruption; when luxury introduced, and fashion gave a sanction to certain sciences, which Cynics would have branded with the ill mannered appellations of drunkenness, gambling, cheating, lying, &c.; the practitioners assumed the new title of Gentlemen, till such Gentlemen became as plenteous as stars in the milky-way, and lost distinction merely by the confluence of their lustre. Wherefore as the said qualities were found to be of ready acquisition, and of easy descent to the populace from their betters, ambition judged it necessary to add further marks and criterions for severing the general herd from the nobler species—of Gentlemen.
“Accordingly, if the commonalty were observed to have a propensity to religion, their superiors affected a disdain of such vulgar prejudices; and a freedom that cast off the restraints of morality, and a courage that spurned at the fear of a God, were accounted the distinguishing characteristics—of a Gentleman.
“If the populace, as in China, were industrious and ingenious, the grandees, by the length of their nails and the cramping of their limbs, gave evidence that true dignity was above labor and utility, and that to be born to no end was the prerogative—of a Gentleman.
“If the common sort, by their conduct, declared a respect for the institutions of civil society and good government; their betters despised such pusillanimous conformity, and the magistrates paid becoming regard to the distinction, and allowed of the superior liberties and privileges—of a Gentleman.
“If the lower set show a sense of common honesty and common order; those who would figure in the world, think it incumbent to demonstrate that complaisance to inferiors, common manners, common equity, or any thing common, is quite beneath
“Now, as underlings are ever ambitious of imitating and usurping the manners of their superiors; and as this state of mortality is incident to perpetual change and revolution, it may happen, that when the populace, by encroaching on the province of gentility, have arrived to their ne plus ultra of insolence, irreligion, &c.; the gentry, in order to be again distinguished, may assume the station that their inferiors had forsaken, and, however ridiculous the supposition may appear at present, humanity, equity, utility, complaisance, and piety, may in time come to be the distinguishing characteristics—of a Gentleman.
“It appears that the most general idea which people have formed of a Gentleman, is that of a person of fortune above the vulgar, and embellished by manners that are fashionable in high life. In this case, fortune and fashion are the two constituent ingredients in the composition of modern Gentlemen; for whatever the fashion may be, whether moral or immoral, for or against reason, right or wrong, it is equally the duty of a Gentleman to conform. And yet I apprehend, that true gentility is altogether independent of fortune or fashion, of time, customs, or opinions of any kind. The very same qualities that constituted a gentleman, in the first age of the world, are permanently, invariably, and indispensably necessary to the constitution of the same character to the end of time.
“Hector was the finest gentleman of whom we read in history, and Don Quixote the finest gentleman we read of in romance; as was instanced from the tenor of their principles and actions.
“Some time after the battle of Cressy, Edward the Third of England, and Edward the Black Prince, the more than heir of his father’s renown, pressed John King of France to indulge them with the pleasure of his company at London. John was desirous of embracing the invitation, and accordingly laid the proposal before his parliament at Paris. The parliament objected, that the invitation had been made with an insidious design of seizing his person, thereby to make the cheaper and easier acquisition of the crown, to which Edward at that time pretended. But John replied, with some warmth, that he was confident his brother Edward, and more especially his young cousin, were too much of the GENTLEMAN, to treat him in that manner. He did not say too much of the king, of the hero, or of the saint, but too much of the GENTLEMAN to be guilty of any baseness.
“The sequel verified this opinion. At the battle of Poictiers King John was made prisoner, and soon after conducted by the Black Prince to England. The prince entered London in triumph, amid the throng and acclamations of millions of the people. But then this rather appeared to be the triumph of the French king than that of his conqueror. John was seated on a proud steed, royally robed, and attended by a numerous and gorgeous train of the British nobility; while his conqueror endeavored, as much as possible, to disappear, and rode by his side in plain attire, and degradingly seated on a little Irish hobby.
“As Aristotle and the Critics derived their rules for epic poetry and the sublime from a poem which Homer had written long before the rules were formed, or laws established for the purpose: thus, from the demeanor and innate principles of particular gentlemen, art has borrowed and instituted the many modes of behaviour, which the world has adopted, under the title of good manners.
“One quality of a gentleman is that of charity to the poor; and this is delicately instanced in the account which Don Quixote gives, to his fast friend Sancho Pancha, of the valorous but yet more pious knight-errant Saint Martin. On a day, said the Don, Saint Martin met a poor man half naked, and taking his cloak from his shoulders, he divided, and gave him the one half. Now, tell me at what time of the year this happened. Was I a witness? quoth, Sancho; how the vengeance should I know in what year or what time of the year it happened? Hadst thou Sancho, rejoined the knight, anything within thee of the sentiment of Saint Martin, thou must assuredly have known that this happened in winter; for, had it been summer, Saint Martin would had given the whole cloak.
“Another characteristic of the true gentleman, is a delicacy of behaviour toward that sex whom nature has entitled to the protection, and consequently entitled to the tenderness, of man.
“The same gentleman-errant, entering into a wood on a summer’s evening, found himself entangled among nets of green thread that, here and there, hung from tree to tree; and conceiving it some matter of purposed conjuration, pushed valorously forward to break through the enchantment. Hereupon some beautiful shepherdesses interposed with a cry, and besought him to spare the implements of their innocent recreation. The knight, surprised and charmed by the vision, replied,—Fair creatures! my province is to protect, not to injure; to seek all means of service, but never of offence, more especially to any of your sex and apparent excellences. Your pretty nets take up but a small piece of favored ground; but, did they inclose the world, I would seek out new worlds, whereby I might win a passage, rather than break them.
“Two very lovely but shamefaced girls had a cause, of some consequence, depending at Westminster, that indispensably required their personal appearance. They were relations of Sir Joseph Jeckel, and, on this tremendous occasion, requested his company and countenance at the court. Sir Joseph attended accordingly; and the cause being opened, the judge demanded whether he was to entitle those ladies by the denomination of spinsters. ‘No, my Lord,’ said Sir Joseph; ‘they are lilies of the valley, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet you see that no monarch, in all his glory, was ever arrayed like one of these.’
“Another very peculiar characteristic of a gentleman is, the giving place and yielding to all with whom he has to do. Of this we have a shining and affecting instance in Abraham, perhaps the most accomplished character that may be found in history, whether sacred or profane. A contention had arisen between the herdsmen of Abraham and the herdsmen of his nephew, Lot, respecting the propriety of the pasture of the lands wherein they dwelled, that could now scarce contain the abundance of their cattle. And those servants, as is universally the case, had respectively endeavored to kindle and inflame their masters with their own passions. When Abraham, in consequence of this, perceived that the countenance of Lot began to change toward him, he called, and generously expostulated with him as followeth: ‘Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, or between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren. If it be thy desire to separate thyself from me, is not the whole land before thee? If thou wilt take the left hand, then will I go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.’
“Another capital quality of the true gentleman is, that of feeling himself concerned and interested in others. Never was there so benevolent, so affecting, so pathetic a piece of oratory exhibited upon earth, as that of Abraham’s pleading with God for averting the judgments that then impended over Sodom. But the matter is already so generally celebrated, that I am constrained to refer my reader to the passage at full; since the smallest abridgment must deduct from its beauties, and that nothing can be added to the excellences thereof.
“Honor, again, is said, in Scripture, peculiarly to distinguish the character of a gentleman; where it is written of Sechem, the son of Hamor, ‘that he was more honorable than all the house of his father.’
“From hence it may be inferred, that human excellence, or human amiableness, doth not so much consist in a freedom from frailty as in our recovery from lapses, our detestation of our own transgressions, and our desire of atoning, by all possible means, the injuries we have done, and the offences we have given. Herein, therefore, may consist the very singular distinction which the great apostle makes between his estimation of a just and of a good man. ‘For a just or righteous man,’ says he, ‘one would grudge to die; but for a good man one would even dare to die.’ Here the just man is supposed to adhere strictly to the rule of right or equity, and to exact from others the same measure that he is satisfied to mete; but the good man, though occasionally he may fall short of justice, has, properly speaking, no measure to his benevolence, his general propensity is to give more than the due. The just man condemns, and is desirous of punishing the transgressors of the line prescribed to himself; but the good man, in the sense of his own falls and failings, gives latitude, indulgence, and pardon to others; he judges, he condemns no one save himself. The just man is a stream that deviates not to the right or left from its appointed channel, neither is swelled by the flood of passion above its banks; but the heart of the good man, the man of honor, the gentleman, is as a lamp lighted by the breath of God, and none save God himself can set limits to the efflux or irradiations thereof.
“Again, the gentleman never envies any superior excellence, but grows himself more excellent, by being the admirer, promoter, and lover thereof. Saul said to his son Jonathan, ‘Thou son of the perverse, rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion? For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom; wherefore send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.’ Here every interesting motive that can possibly be conceived to have an influence on man, united to urge Jonathan to the destruction of David; he would thereby have obeyed his king, and pacified a father who was enraged against him. He would thereby have removed the only luminary that then eclipsed the brightness of his own achievements. And he saw, as his father said, that the death of David alone could establish the kingdom in himself and his posterity. But all those considerations were of no avail to make Jonathan swerve from honor, to slacken the bands of his faith, or cool the warmth of his friendship. O Jonathan! the sacrifice which thou then madest to virtue, was incomparably more illustrious in the sight of God and his angels than all the subsequent glories to which David attained. What a crown was thine, ‘Jonathan, when thou wast slain in thy high places!’
“Saul of Tarsus had been a man of bigotry, blood, and violence; making havoc, and breathing out threatenings and slaughter, against all who were not of his own sect and persuasion. But, when the spirit of that Infant, who laid himself in the manger of human flesh, came upon him, he acquired a new heart and a new nature; and he offered himself a willing subject to all the sufferings and persecutions which he had brought upon others.
“Saul from that time, exemplified in his own person, all those qualities of the gentleman, which he afterwards specifies in his celebrated description of that charity, which, as he says, alone endureth forever. When Festus cried with a loud voice, ‘Paul, thou art beside thyself, much learning doth make thee mad;’ Paul stretched the hand, and answered, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.’ Then Agrippa said unto Paul, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ And Paul said, ‘I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were not only almost but altogether such as I am,—except these bonds.’ Here, with what an inimitable elegance did this man, in his own person, at once sum up the orator, the saint, and the gentleman!
“From these instances, my friend, you must have seen that the character, or rather quality of a GENTLEMAN, does not, in any degree, depend on fashion or mode, on station or opinion; neither changes with customs, climate, or ages. But, as the Spirit of God can alone inspire it into man, so it is, as God is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever.”
In concluding this chapter I would say:
“In the common actions and transactions of life, there is a wide distinction between the well-bred and the ill-bred. If a person of the latter sort be in a superior condition in life, his conduct towards those below him, or dependent upon him, is marked by haughtiness, or by unmannerly condescension. In the company of his equals in station and circumstances, an ill-bred man is either captious and quarrelsome, or offensively familiar. He does not consider that:
‘The man who hails you Tom or Jack,
And proves, by thumps upon your back,
How he esteems your merit,
Is such a friend, that one had need
Be very much a friend indeed,
To pardon or to bear it.’
And proves, by thumps upon your back,
How he esteems your merit,
Is such a friend, that one had need
Be very much a friend indeed,
To pardon or to bear it.’
“And if a man void of good breeding have to transact business with a superior in wealth or situation, it is more than likely that he will be needlessly humble, unintentionally insolent, or, at any rate, miserably embarrassed. On the contrary, a well-bred person will instinctively avoid all these errors. ‘To inferiors, he will speak kindly and considerately, so as to relieve them from any feeling of being beneath him in circumstances. To equals, he will be plain, unaffected, and courteous. To superiors, he will know how to show becoming respect, without descending to subserviency or meanness. In short, he will act a manly, inoffensive, and agreeable part, in all the situations in life in which he may be placed.’”