Home is a little world of itself, and furnishes a sphere for the exercise of every virtue and for the experience of every pleasure or pain. If one profit not by its opportunities, he will be likely to pay dearly for less agreeable lessons in another school.—Harrison.
I.—A TEST OF GOOD MANNERS.
ood manners are not to be put on and off with one’s best clothes. Politeness is an article for every-day wear. If you don it only on special and rare occasions, it will be sure to sit awkwardly upon you. If you are not well behaved in your own family circle, you will hardly be truly so anywhere, however strictly you may conform to the observances of good breeding, when in society. The true gentleman or lady is a gentleman or lady at all times and in all places-at home as well as abroad—in the field, or workshop, or in the kitchen, as well as in the parlor. A snob is—a snob always and everywhere.
If you see a man behave in a rude and uncivil manner to his father or mother, his brothers or sisters, his wife or children; or fail to exercise the common courtesies of life at his own table and around his own fireside, you may at once set him down as a boor, whatever pretensions he may make to gentility.
Dc not fall into the absurd error of supposing that you may do as you please at home—that is, unless you please to behave in a perfectly gentlemanly or ladylike manner. The same rights exist there as elsewhere, and the same duties grow out of them, while the natural respect and[Pg 57] affection which should be felt by each member of the family for all the other members, add infinitely to their sacredness. Let your good manners, then, begin at home.
II.—PARENTS AND CHILDREN.
American children (we are sorry to be obliged to say it) are not, as a general rule, well behaved. They are rude and disrespectful, if not disobedient. They inspire terror rather than love in the breasts of strangers and all persons who seek quiet and like order. In our drawing-rooms, on board our steamers, in our railway cars and stage coaches, they usually contrive to make themselves generally and particularly disagreeable by their familiarity, forwardness, and pertness. “Young America” can not brook restraint, has no conception of superiority, and reverences nothing. His ideas of equality admit neither limitation nor qualification. He is born with a full comprehension of his own individual rights, but is slow in learning his social duties. Through whose fault comes this state of things? American boys and girls have naturally as much good sense and good-nature as those of any other nation, and, when well trained, no children are more courteous and agreeable. The fault lies in their education. In the days of our grandfathers, children were taught manners at school—a rather rude, backwoods sort of manners, it is true, but better than the no manners at all of the present day. We must blame parents in this matter rather than their children. If you would have your children grow up beloved and respected by their elders as well as their contemporaries, teach them good manners in their childhood. The young sovereign should first learn to obey, that he may be the better fitted to command in his turn.
Those who are old enough to study this book, are old enough to take the matter in to their own hands, and remedy[Pg 58] the defects and supply the deficiencies of their early education. We beg them to commence at once, and at home.
Allow no false ideas of “liberty and equality” to cause you to forget for a moment the deference due to your father and your mother. The fifth commandment has not been and can not be abrogated. We commend to you the example of the Father of his Country. Look into the life of Washington, and mark what tender and respectful attentions characterized his intercourse with his only surviving parent. He never, we venture to say, spoke of his mother as “the old woman,” or addressed her with incivility. “Never,” an old friend of yours adjures you, “let youthful levity or the example of others betray you into forgetfulness of the claims of your parents or elders to a certain deference.” Nature, a counselor still more sage, we doubt not, has written the same injunction upon your heart. Let your manners do justice to your feelings!
“Toward your father,” that polished and courtly “gentleman of the old school,” the author of the “American Gentleman’s Guide to Politeness and Fashion,” says, “preserve always a deferential manner, mingled with a certain frankness indicating that thorough confidence—that entire understanding of each other, which is the best guarantee of good sense in both, and of inestimable value to every young man blessed with a right-minded parent. Accept the advice dictated by experience with respect, receive even reproof without impatience of manner, and hasten to prove afterward that you cherish no resentful remembrance of what may have seemed to you too great severity or a too manifest assumption of authority…. In the inner temple of home, as well as where the world looks on, render him reverence due.
“There should be mingled with the habitual deference and attention that marks your manner to your mother the[Pg 59] indescribable tenderness and rendering back of care and watchfulness that betokens remembrance of early days. No other woman should ever induce you to forget this truest, most disinterested friend, nor should your manner ever indicate even momentary indifference to her wishes or her affection.”
III.—BROTHERS AND SISTERS.
The intercourse of brothers and sisters should be marked by the frankness and familiarity befitting their intimate relation; but this certainly does not preclude the exercise of all the little courtesies of life. Young man, be polite to your sister. She is a woman, and all women have claims on you for courteous attentions; and the affection which exists between you adds tenfold to the sacredness of the claims she has upon you, not only for protection, but for the exercise toward her of all the sweet amenities of life. Except your mother and your wife or affianced mistress (if you have one), no one can possibly have an equal right to your attentions. If you are young and have neither wife nor lady-love, let your mother and your sisters be to you the embodiment of all that is tenderest, most beautiful, and best in the human world. You can have no better school than your daily intercourse with them, to fit you for female society in general. The young man who loves his sisters and always treats them with the politeness, deference, and kindness which is their due, is almost certain to be a favorite with their sex generally; so, as you value your reputation for good manners and your success with other ladies, fail in no act of courtesy to your sisters.
The gentle and loving sister will need no injunction to treat an affectionate, polite, and attentive brother with the tender and respectful consideration which such a brother deserves. The charming little courtesies which you practice[Pg 60] so gracefully in your intercourse with other gentlemen will not, you may be sure, be lost upon him. True politeness is never lost, and never out of place; and nowhere does it appear more attractive than at home.
Stiff formality and cold ceremoniousness are repulsive anywhere, and are particularly so in the family circle; but the easy, frank, and genial intercourse of the fireside, instead of being marred, is refined and made still more delightful by courtesy.
IV.—THE HUSBAND AND WIFE.
Reader, are you married? But excuse us, if the question is not a proper one. If you are not, you doubtless hope to be, sooner or later, and therefore we will address you just as if you were.
The husband should never cease to be a lover, or fail in any of those delicate attentions and tender expressions of affectionate solicitude which marked his intercourse before marriage with his heart’s queen. All the respectful deference, every courteous observance, all the self-sacrificing devotion that can be claimed by a mistress is certainly due to a wife, and he is no true husband and no true gentleman who withholds them. It is not enough that you honor, respect, and love your wife. You must put this honor, respect, and love into the forms of speech and action. Let no unkind word, no seeming indifference, no lack of the little attentions due her, remind her sadly of the sweet days of courtship and the honey-moon. Surely the love you thought would have been cheaply purchased at the price of a world is worth all you care to preserve. Is not the wife more, and better, and dearer than the sweetheart? We venture to hint that it is probably your own fault if she is not.
The chosen companion of your life, the mother of your[Pg 61] children, the sharer of all your joys and sorrows, as she possesses the highest place in your affections, should have the best place everywhere, the choicest morsels, the politest attentions, the softest, kindest words, the tenderest care. Love, duty, and good manners alike require it.
And has the wife no duties? Have the courteous observances, the tender watchfulness, the pleasant words, the never-tiring devotion, which won your smiles, your spoken thanks, your kisses, your very self, in days gone by, now lost their value? Does not the husband rightly claim as much, at least, as the lover? If you find him less observant of the little courtesies due you, may this not be because you sometimes fail to reward him with the same sweet thanks and sweeter smiles? Ask your own heart.
Have the comfort and happiness of your husband always in view, and let him see and feel that you still look up to him with trust and affection—that the love of other days has not grown cold. Dress for his eyes more scrupulously than for all the rest of the world; make yourself and your home beautiful for his sake; play and sing (if you can) to please him; try to beguile him from his cares; retain his affections in the same way you won them, and—be polite even to your husband.
V.—ENTERTAINERS AND THEIR GUESTS.
Hospitality takes a high rank among the social virtues; but we fear it is not held in so high esteem as formerly. Its duties are often fatiguing and irksome, no doubt, and sometimes quite unnecessarily so. One of the most important maxims of hospitality is, “Let your guests alone!” If it were generally observed it would save both hosts and visitors a world of trouble. Your first object should be to make your guests feel at home. This they never can do while your needless bustle and obtrusive[Pg 62] attentions constantly remind them that they are not at home, and perhaps make them wish they were.
You will not, of course, understand us to mean that you should devote no attention to your guests. On the contrary, you should assiduously labor to promote their comfort and enjoyment, opening to them every source of entertainment within your reach; but it should be done in that easy, delicate, considerate way which will make it seem a matter of course, and no trouble whatever to you. You should not seem to be conferring but receiving a favor.
Begging your visitors to “make themselves at home,” does not give them the home feeling. Genuine, unaffected friendliness, and an unobtrusive and almost unperceived attention to their wants alone will impart this. Allow their presence to interfere as little as possible with your domestic arrangements; thus letting them see that their visit does not disturb you, but that they fall, as it were, naturally into a vacant place in your household.
Observe your own feelings when you happen to be the guest of a person who, though he may be very much your friend, and really glad to see you, seems not to know what to do either with you or himself; and again, when in the house of another, you feel as much at ease as in your own. Mark the difference, more easily felt than described, between the manners of the two, and deduce therefrom a lesson for your own improvement.
Furnish your rooms and table for your guests in as good style as your means and the circumstances of the case will permit, and make no fuss about it. To be unnecessarily sparing shows meanness, and to be extravagantly profuse is absurd as well an ruinous. Probably your visitors know whether your income is large or small and if they do not they will soon learn, on that point, all[Pg 63] that it is necessary for them to know. But if any circumstance out of the ordinary course of things should render an apology necessary, make it at once and say no more about it.
Avoid by all means the very common but very foolish habit of depreciating your own rooms, furniture, or viands, and expressing uncalled-for regrets that you have nothing better to offer, merely to give your guests an opportunity politely to contradict you. But you need not go to the other extreme and extol the meats you set before them. Say nothing about these matters.
When visitors show any intention of leaving, you will of course express the desire you feel to have them stay longer, but good manners do not require you to endeavor to retain them against their wishes or sense of duty. It is to be supposed that they know their own affairs best.
Guests sometimes forget (if they ever learned) that they have any duties. We beg leave to jog their memory with the following hints from the graceful pen of “Mrs. Manners:”
“To accommodate yourself to the habits and rules of the family, in regard to hours of rising or retiring, and particularly the hours for meals, is the first duty of a guest. Inform yourself as soon as possible when the meals occur—whether there will be a dressing-bell—at what time they meet for prayers, and thus become acquainted with all the family regulations. It is always the better way for a family to adhere strictly to all their usual habits; it is a much simpler matter for one to learn to conform to those than for half a dozen to be thrown out of a routine, which may be almost indispensable to the fulfillment of their importunate duties. It certainly must promote the happiness of any reasonable person to know that his presence is no restraint and no inconvenience.
“Your own good sense and delicacy will teach you the desirability of keeping your room tidy, and your articles of dress and toilet as much in order as possible. If there is a deficiency of servants, a lady will certainly not hesitate to make her own bed, and to do for herself as much as possible, and for the family all that is in her power. I never saw an elegant lady of my acquaintance appear to better advantage than when once performing a service which, under other circumstances, might have been considered menial; yet, in her own house, she was surrounded by servants, and certainly she never used a broom or made a bed a her life.”
We are all dependent, in one way or another, upon others. At one time we serve, at another we are served, and we are equally worthy of honor and respect in the one case as in the other. The man or the woman who serves us may or may not be our inferior in natural capacity, learning, manners, or wealth. Be this as it may, the relation in which we stand to him or her gives us no right beyond the exaction of the service stipulated or implied in that relation. The right to tyrannize over our inferiors in social position, to unnecessarily humiliate them, or to be rude and unkind can not exist, because it would be an infringement of other rights. Servants have rights as well as those whom they serve, and the latter have duties as well as the former. We owe those who labor for us something more than their wages. They have claims on us for a full recognition of their manhood or womanhood, and all the rights which grow out of that state.
The true gentleman is never arrogant, or overbearing, or rude to domestics or employées. His commands are[Pg 65] requests, and all services, no matter how humble the servant, are received with thanks, as if they were favors. We might say the same with still greater emphasis of the true lady. There is no surer sign of vulgarity than a needless assumption of the tone of authority and a haughty and supercilious bearing toward servants and inferiors in station generally. It is a small thing to say, “I thank you,” but those little words are often better than gold. No one is too poor to bestow, or too rich to receive them.
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