These, some will say, are little things. It is true, they are little but it is equally clear that they are necessary things.—Chesterfield.


We have defined equality in another place. We fully accept the doctrine as there set forth. We have no respect for mere conventional and arbitrary distinctions. Hereditary titles command no deference from us. Lords and dukes are entitled to no respect simply because they are lords and dukes. If they are really noble men, we honor them accordingly. Their titles are mere social fictions.

True republicanism requires that every man shall have an equal chance—that every man shall be free to become as unequal as he can. No man should be valued the less or the more on account of his grandfather, his position, his possessions, or his occupation. The MAN should be superior to the accidents of his birth, and should take that rank which is due to his merit.[R]

The error committed by our professedly republican communities consists, not in the recognition of classes and grades of rank, but in placing them, as they too often do, on artificial and not on natural grounds. We have had frequent occasion, in the preceding pages, to speak of superiors and inferiors. We fully recognize [Pg 125]the relation which these words indicate. It is useless to quarrel with Nature, who has nowhere in the universe given us an example of the absolute, unqualified, dead-level equality which some pseudo-reformers have vainly endeavored to institute among men. Such leveling is neither possible nor desirable. Harmony is born of difference, and not of sameness.

We have in our country a class of toad-eaters who delight in paying the most obsequious homage to fictitious rank of every kind. A vulgar millionaire of the Fifth Avenue, and a foreign adventurer with a meaningless title, are equally objects of their misplaced deference. Losing sight of their own manhood and self-respect, they descend to the most degrading sycophancy. We have little hope of benefiting them. They are “joined to their idols; let them alone.”

But a much larger class of our people are inclined to go to the opposite extreme, and ignore veneration, in its human aspect, altogether. They have no reverence for anybody or anything. This class of people will read our book, and, we trust, profit by its well-meant hints. We respect them, though we can not always commend their manners. They have independence and manliness, but fail to accord due respect to the manhood of others. It is for their special benefit that we leave touched with considerable emphasis on the deference due to age and genuine rank, from whatever source derived.

Your townsman, Mr. Dollarmark, has no claim on you for any special token of respect, simply because he inherited half a million, which has grown in his hands to a million and a half, while you can not count half a thousand, or because he lives in his own palatial mansion, and you in a hired cottage; but your neighbor,[Pg 126] Mr. Anvil, who, setting out in life, like yourself, without a penny, has amassed a little fortune by his own unaided exertions, and secured a high social position by his manliness, integrity, and good breeding, is entitled to a certain deference on your part—a recognition of his merits and his superiority. Mr. Savant, who has gained distinction for himself and conferred honor on his country by his scientific discoveries, and your aged friend Mr. Goodman, who, though a stranger to both wealth and fame, is drawing toward the close of a long and useful life, during which he has helped to build up and give character to the place in which he lives, have, each in his own way, earned the right to some token of deference from those who have not yet reached an equally elevated position.

It is not for birth, or wealth, or occupation, or any other accidental circumstance, that we ask reverence, but for inherent nobility wrought out in life. This is what should give men rank and titles in a republic.

Your hired man, Patrick, may be your inferior, but it is not because he is your hired man. Another man, who is your superior in every way, may stand in the same business relation to you. He may sell you certain stipulated services for a stipulated amount of money; but you bargain for no deference that your real social position and character do not call for from him. He, and not you, may be entitled to the “wall side,” and to precedence everywhere.

The words civil and civilized are derived from the Latin civitas (Ital., città), a city, and polite, from the Greek πολις (polis), a city; because cities are the first to become civilized, or civil, and polite, or polished[Pg 127] (Latin, polire). They are still, as a general rule, the home of the most highly cultivated people, as well as of the rudest and most degraded, and unquestioned arbiters of fashion and social observances. For this reason the rules of etiquette laid down in this and all other works on the subject of manners, are calculated, as the astronomers say, for the meridian of the city. The observances of the country are borrowed from the city, and modified to suit the social condition and wants of the different localities. This must always be borne in mind, and your behavior regulated accordingly. The white or pale yellow gloves, which you must wear during the whole evening at a fashionable evening party in the city, under pain of being set down as unbearably vulgar, would be very absurd appendages at a social gathering at a farm-house in the country. None but a snob would wear them at such a place. So with other things.

N. P. Willis says, “We should be glad to see a distinctly American school of good manners, in which all useless etiquette were thrown aside, but every politeness adopted or invented which could promote sensible and easy exchanges of good-will and sociability. Good sense and consideration for others should be the basis of every usage of polite life that is worth regarding. Indeed, we have long thought that our country was old enough to adopt measures and etiquettes of its own, based, like all other politeness, upon benevolence and common sense. To get rid of imported etiquette is the first thing to do for American politeness.”

This is an important truth well stated. We have had enough of mere imported conventionalism in manners. Our usages should not be English or French usages,[Pg 128] further than English and French usages are founded on universal principles. Politeness is the same everywhere and always, but the forms of etiquette must change with times and places; for an observance which may be proper and useful in London or Paris, may be abundantly absurd in New York.

In answer to a correspondent who inquires whether an American citizen should address a European nobleman by his title, Life Illustrated says:

“We answer, unhesitatingly, No. Most of the European titles are purely fictitious, as well as ridiculous. The Duke of Northumberland, for example, has nothing in particular to do with Northumberland, nor does he exercise dukeship (or leadership) over anything except his private estate. The title is a perfect absurdity; it means nothing whatever; it is a mere nickname; and Mr. Percy is a fool for permitting himself to be addressed as ‘My Lord Duke,’ and ‘Your Grace.’ Indeed, even in England, gentlemen use those titles very sparingly, and servants alone habitually employ then. American citizens who are thrown, in their travels, or in their intercourse with society, into communication with persons bearing titles, may treat them with all due respect without Gracing or My-Lording them. In our opinion, they should do so. And we have faith enough in the good sense of the English people to believe that the next generation, or the next but one, will see a general abandonment of fictitious titles by the voluntary action of the very people who hold them. At the same time, we are inclined to think that the bestowment of real titles—titles which mean something, titles given in recognition of distinguished worth and eminent services,[Pg 129] titles not hereditary—will be one of the most cherished prerogatives of the enlightened states of the good time coming. The first step, however, must be the total abolition of all titles which are fictitious and hereditary.”

The following rather broad hints to certain bipeds who ought to be gentlemen, were clipped from some newspaper. We are sorry we do not know to whom to credit the article:

“Who can tell why women are expected, on pain of censure and avoidance, to conform to a high standard of behavior, while men are indulged in another a great deal lower? We never could fully understand why men should be tolerated in the chewing of tobacco, in smoking and in spitting everywhere almost, and at all times, whereas a woman can not do any of these things without exciting aversion and disgust. Why ought a man to be allowedly so self-indulgent, putting his limbs and person in all manner of attitudes, however uncouth and distasteful, merely because such vulgarities yield him temporary eases, while a woman is always required to preserve an attitude, if not of positive grace, at least of decency and propriety, from which if she departs, though but for an instant, she forfeits respect, and is instantly branded as a low creature!

“Can any one say why a man when he has the tooth-ache, or is called to suffer in any other way, should be permitted, as a matter of course, to groan and bellow, and vent his feelings very much in the style of an animal not endowed with reason, while a woman similarly suffering must bear it in silence and decorum? Why, should men, as a class, habitually, and as a matter of right, boldly wear the coarsest qualities of human [Pg 130]nature on the outside, and swear and fight, and beastify themselves, so that they are obliged to be put into separate pens in the cars on railroads, and at the dépôts, while woman must appear with an agreeable countenance, if not in smiles, even when the head, or perhaps the heart, aches, and are expected to permit nothing ill-tempered, disagreeable, or even unhappy to appear outwardly, but to keep all these concealed in their own bosoms to suffer as they may, lest they might otherwise lessen the cheerfulness of others?

“These are a few suggestions only among many we would hint to the stronger and more exciting sex to be reflected on for the improvement of their tastes and manners. In the mirror thus held up before them, they can not avoid observing the very different standards by which the behavior of the two sexes is constantly regulated. If any reason can be assigned why one should always be a lady, and the other hardly ever a gentleman, we hope it will be done.”

Every action ought to be with some sign of respect to those present. Be no flatterer; neither play with any one who delights not to be played with. Read no paper or book in company. Come not near the papers or books of another when he is writing. Let your countenance be cheerful; but in serious matters be grave. Let your discourse with others, on matters of business, be short. It is good manners to let others speak first. When a man does all he can, do not blame him, though he succeeds not well. Take admonitions thankfully. Be not too hasty to receive lying reports to the injury of another. Let your dress be modest, and consult your condition. Play not the peacock by [Pg 131]looking vainly at yourself. It is better to be alone than in bad company. Let your conversation be without malice or envy. Urge not your friend to discover a secret. Break not a jest where none take pleasure in mirth. Gaze not on the blemishes of others. When another speaks, be attentive.

On turning over the leaves of the various works on etiquette which we have had occasion to consult in the preparation of this little manual, we have marked with our pencil a large number of passages which seemed to us to embody important facts or thoughts, with the hope of being able to weave them into our work, each in its appropriate place. Some of them we have made use of according to our original intention; a few others not elsewhere used, we purpose to throw together here without any attempt at classification.

1. Our Social Uniform.
The universal partiality of our countrymen for black, as the color of dress clothes, at least, is frequently remarked upon by foreigners. Among the best dressed men on the Continent, as well as in England, black, through not confined to the clergy, is in much less general use than here. They adopt the darker shades of blue, brown, and green, and for undress almost as great diversity of colors as of fabrics.

2. A Hint to the Ladies.
Don’t make your rooms gloomy. Furnish them for light and let them have it. Daylight is very cheap, and candle or gas light you need not use often. If your rooms are dark, all the effect of furniture, pictures, walls, and carpets is lost. Finally, if you have beautiful[Pg 132] things, make them useful. The fashion of having a nice parlor, and then shutting it up all but three or four days in the year, when you have company; spending your own life in a mean room, shabbily furnished, or an unhealthy basement, to save your things, is the meanest possible economy. Go a little further—shut up your house, and live in a pig-pen! The use of nice and beautiful things is to act upon your spirit—to educate you and make you beautiful.

3. Another.
Don’t put your cards around the looking-glass, unless in your private boudoir. If you wish to display them, keep them in a suitable basket or vase on the mantle or center-table.

4. An Obliging Disposition.
Polite persons are necessarily obliging. A smile is always on their lips, an earnestness in their countenance, when we ask a favor of them. They know that to render a service with a bad grace, is in reality not to render it at all. If they are obliged to refuse a favor, they do it with mildness and delicacy; they express such feeling regret that they still inspire us with gratitude; in short, their conduct appears so perfectly natural that it really seems that the opportunity which is offered them of obliging us, is obliging themselves; and they refuse all our thanks, without affectation or effort.

5. Securing a Home.
Let me, as a somewhat scrutinizing observer of the varying phases of social life, in our own country especially, enter my earnest protest against the practice so commonly adopted by newly-married persons, of boarding,[Pg 133] in place of at once establishing for themselves the distinctive and ennobling prerogatives of HOME. Language and time would alike fail me in an endeavor to set forth the manifold evils inevitably growing out of this fashionable system. Take the advice of an old man, who has tested theories by prolonged experience, and at once establish your Penates within four walls, and under a roof that will, at times, exclude all who are not properly denizens of your household, upon assuming the rights and obligations of married life. Do not be deterred from this step by the conviction that you can not shrine your home deities upon pedestals of marble. Cover their bases with flowers—God’s free gift to all—and the plainest support will suffice for them if it be but firm.

6. Taste vs. Fashion.
A lady should never, on account of economy, wear either what she deems an ugly or an ungraceful garment; such garments never put her at her ease, and are neglected and cast aside long before they have done her their true service. We are careful only of those things which suit us, and which we believe adorn us, and the mere fact of believing that we look well, goes a great way toward making us do so. Fashion should be sacrificed to taste, or, at best, followed at a distance; it does not do to be entirely out, nor completely in, what is called “fashion,” many things being embraced under that term which are frivolous, unmeaning, and sometimes meretricious.

7. Special Claims.
There are persons to whom a lady or gentleman should be especially polite. All elderly persons, the[Pg 134] unattractive, the poor, and those whose dependent positions may cause them to fear neglect. The gentleman who offers his arm or gives his time to an old lady, or asks a very plain one to dance, or attends one who is poorly dressed, never looses in others’ estimation or his own.

8. Propriety of Deportment.
Propriety of deportment is the valuable result of a knowledge of one’s self, and of respect for the rights of others; it is a feeling of the sacrifices which are imposed on self-esteem by our social relations; it is, in short, a sacred requirement of harmony and affection.

9. False Pride.
False pride and false dignity are very mean qualities. A true gentleman will do anything proper for him to do. He can soil his hands or use his muscles when there is occasion. The truest gentleman is more likely to carry home a market-basket, or a parcel, or to wheel a barrow through Broadway, than many a conceited little snob of a shop-boy.

10. The Awkwardness of being “Dressed.”
When dressed for company, strive to appear as easy and natural as if you were in undress. Nothing is more distressing to a sensitive person, or more ridiculous to one gifted with an esprit moquer [a disposition to “make fun”], than to see a lady laboring under the consciousness of a fine gown; or a gentleman who is stiff, awkward, and ungainly in a brand-new coat.

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