There is no man who can so easily and so naturally become in all points a Gentleman Knight, without fear and without reproach, as a true American Republican.—James Parton.


Having given due attention to your personal habits and dress, consider what special errors still remain to be corrected, or what deficiencies to be supplied, and carefully and perseveringly apply yourself to the required self-training.

If you are sensible of an inadequate development of any of those faculties or feelings on which good manners are based, set yourself at once about the work of cultivation, remembering that the legitimate exercise of any organ or function necessarily tends to its development. Look first to conscientiousness. It is hardly possible for you to acquire genuine good manners without an acute sense of equity. Accustom yourself to a sacred regard for the rights of others, even in the minutest matters, and in the most familiar intercourse of the family or social circle. In a similar manner cultivate Benevolence, Veneration, Adhesiveness, Agreeableness, Ideality, and the moral, social, and esthetic faculties in general. Go out of your way, if necessary, to perform acts of kindness and friendship; never omit the “thank you” which is due for the slightest possible favor, whether rendered by the highest or the lowest; be always bland and genial; respect times, places, observances, and especially persons; and put yourself in the way of all [Pg 43]possible elevating and refining influences. Manners have their origin in the mind and the heart. Manners do not make the man, as is sometimes asserted; but the man makes the manners. It is true, however, that the manners react upon mind and heart, continually developing and improving the qualities out of which they spring.

You are placed in a particular community, or you are invited or wish to gain admittance into a certain circle. Different communities and circles require, to some extent, different qualifications. Ascertain what you lack and acquire it as speedily as possible; but remember that good sense and good nature are out of place in no company.

Conversation plays an important part in the intercourse of society. It is a great and valuable accomplishment to be able to talk well. Cultivate language and the voice. Learn to express yourself with correctness, ease, and elegance. This subject is worthy of all the time and study you can give to it. “How to Talk: a Pocket Manual of Conversation and Debate,” which forms one of this series of “Hand-Books for Home Improvement,” will give you all necessary aid in this department.

Study also the graces of manner, motion, and position. Grace is natural, no doubt, but most of us have nearly lost sight of nature. It is often with the greatest difficulty that we find our way back to her paths. It seems a simple and easy thing to walk, and a still easier and simpler thing to stand or sit, but not one in twenty perform either of these acts with ease and grace. There are a hundred little things connected with attitude, movement, the carriage of the arms, the position of the feet and the like,[Pg 44] which, though seemingly unimportant are really essential to elegance and ease. Never despise these little things, or be ashamed to acquire the smallest grace by study and practice.

You desire to be a person of “good standing” in society. How do you stand? We refer now to the artistic or esthetic point of view. If you are awkward, you are more likely to manifest your awkwardness in standing than in walking. Do you know where to put your feet and what to do with your hands? In the absence of any better rule or example, try to forget your limbs, and let them take care of themselves. But observe the attitudes which sculptors give to their statues; and study also those of children, which are almost always graceful, because natural. Avoid, on the one hand, the stiffness of the soldier, and, on the other, the ape-like suppleness of the dancing-master; and let there be no straining, no fidgeting, no uneasy shifting of position. You should stand on both feet, bearing a little more heavily on one than the other. The same general principles apply to the sitting posture. This may be either graceful, dignified, and elegant, or awkward, abject, and uncouth. The latter class of qualities may be got rid of and the former acquired, and depend upon it, it is a matter of some consequence which of them characterizes your position and movements. Walking is not so difficult an accomplishment as standing and sitting, but should receive due attention. It has a very close connection with character, and either of them may be improved or deteriorated through the other. A close observer and a sensible and trustworthy monitor of their own sex thus enumerates some of the common faults of women in their “carriage,” or manner of walking:

“Slovenliness in walking characterizes some. They go shuffling along, precisely as if their shoes were down[Pg 45] at the heel—”slipshod”—and they could not lift up their feet in consequence. If it is dusty or sandy, they kick up the dust before them and fill their skirts with it. This is exceedingly ungraceful. If I were a gentleman, I really do not think I could marry a lady who walked like this; she would appear so very undignified, and I could not be proud of her.

“Some have another awkwardness. They lift up their feet so high that their knees are sent out before them showing the movement through the dress. They always seem to be leaving their skirts behind them, instead of carrying them gracefully about them. Some saunter along so loosely they seem to be hung on wires; others are as stiff as if they supposed only straight lines were agreeable to the eye; and others, again, run the chin forward considerably in advance of the breast, looking very silly and deficient in self-respect.

“Sometimes a lady walks so as to turn up her dress behind every time she puts her foot back, and I have seen a well-dressed woman made to look very awkward by elevating her shoulders slightly and pushing her elbows too far behind her. Some hold their hands up to the waist, and press their arms against themselves as tightly as if they were glued there; others swing them backward and forward, as a business man walks along the street. Too short steps detract from dignity very much, forming a mincing pace; too long steps are masculine.

“Some walk upon the ball of the foot very flatly and clumsily; others come down upon the heel as though a young elephant was moving; and others, again, ruin their shoes and their appearance by walking upon the side of the foot. Many practice a stoop called the Grecian bend, and when they are thirty, will pass well, unless the face be seen, for fifty years’ old.”

[Pg 46]

Gymnastics, dancing, and the military drill are excellent auxiliaries in the work of physical training, though all of them may be, and constantly are, abused. We can not illustrate their application here. They will receive the attention they deserve in “Hints toward Physical Perfection,” already referred to as in preparation.

Without perfect self-control you are constantly liable to do something amiss, and your other social qualifications will avail little. You must not only be fully conscious who you are, what you are, where you are, and what you are about, but you must also have an easy and complete control of all your words and actions, and feel at home wherever you are. You are liable to lose this self-command either through bashfulness or excitement. The former is one of the greatest obstacles with which a majority of young people have to contend. It can be overcome by resolute effort and the cultivation of self-respect and self-reliance. Do not allow it to keep you out of society. You will not conquer it by such a course. You might as reasonably expect to learn to swim without going into the water.

One of the best means of improvement in manners is observation. In company, where you are in doubt in reference to any rule or form, be quiet and observe what others do, and govern your conduct by theirs; but except in mere external forms, beware of a servile imitation. Seek to understand the principles which underlie the observances you witness, and to become imbued with the spirit of the society (if good) in which you move, rather than to copy particulars in the manners of any one.

[Pg 47]

But the most important instrumentality for the promotion of the externals of good manners is constant practice in the actual every-day intercourse of society; and without this our instructions and your study will both be thrown away. Begin now, to-day, with the next person you meet or address.

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