The Principles Of Good Manners

The Principles Of Good Manners

The Principles Of Good Manners


A Pocket Manual Of Republican Etiquette, And Guide To Correct Personal Habits Embracing An Exposition Of The Principles Of Good Manners; Useful Hints On The Care Of The Person, Eating, Drinking, Exercise, Habits, Dress, Self-Culture, And Behavior At Home; The Etiquette Of Salutations, Introductions, Receptions, Visits, Dinners, Evening Parties, Conversation, Letters, Presents, Weddings, Funerals, The Street, The Church, Places Of Amusement, Traveling, Etc., With Illustrative Anecdotes, a Chapter on Love and Courtship, and Rules of Order for Debating Societies; by Samuel R Wells

The Principles Of Good Manners
The Principles Of Good Manners

Some one has defined politeness as “only an elegant form of justice;” but it is something more. It is the result of the combined action of all the moral and social feelings, guided by judgment and refined by taste. It requires the exercise of benevolence, veneration (in its human aspect), adhesiveness, and ideality, as well as of conscientiousness. It is the spontaneous recognition of human solidarity—the flowering of philanthropy—the fine art of the social passions. It is to the heart what music is to the ear, and painting and sculpture to the eye.

One can not commit a greater mistake than to make politeness a mere matter of arbitrary forms. It has as real and permanent a foundation in the nature and relations of men and women, as have government and the common law. The civil code is not more binding upon us than is the code of civility. Portions of the former become, from time to time, inoperative—mere dead letters on the statute-book, on account of the conditions on which they were founded ceasing to exist; and many of the enactments of the latter lose their significance and binding force from the same cause. Many of the forms now in vogue, in what is called fashionable society, are of this character. Under the circumstances which called them into existence they were appropriate and beautiful; under changed circumstances they are simply absurd. There are other forms of observances over which time and place have no influence—which are always and everywhere binding.

Politeness itself is always the same. The rules of etiquette, which are merely the forms in which it finds expression, vary with time and place. A sincere regard for the rights of others, in the smallest matters as well as the largest, genuine kindness of heart; good taste, and self-command, which are the foundations of good manners, are never out of fashion; and a person who possesses them[Pg x] can hardly be rude or discourteous, however far he may transgress conventional usages: lacking these qualities, the most perfect knowledge of the rules of etiquette and the strictest observance of them will not suffice to make one truly polite.

“Politeness,” says La Bruyère, “seems to be a certain care, by the manner of our words and actions, to make others pleased with us and themselves.” This definition refers the matter directly to those qualities of mind and heart already enumerated as the foundations of good manners. To the same effect is the remark of Madame Celnart, that “the grand secret of never-failing propriety of deportment is to have an intention of always doing right.”

Some persons have the “instinct of courtesy” so largely developed that they seem hardly to need culture at all. They are equal to any occasion, however novel. They never commit blunders, or if they do commit them, they seem not to be blunders in them. So there are those who sing, speak, or draw intuitively—by inspiration. The great majority of us, however, must be content to acquire these arts by study and practice. In the same way we must acquire the art of behavior, so far as behavior is an art. We must possess, in the first place, a sense of equity, good-will toward our fellow-men, kind feelings, magnanimity and self-control. Cultivation will do the rest. But we most never forget that manners as well as morals are founded on certain eternal principles, and that while “the letter killeth,” “the spirit giveth life.”

The account which Lord Chesterfield gives of the method by which he acquired the reputation of being the most polished man in England, is a strong example of the efficacy of practice, in view of which no one need despair. He was naturally singularly deficient in that grace which afterward so distinguished him. “I had a strong desire,” he says, “to please, and was sensible that I had nothing but the desire. I therefore resolved, if possible, to acquire the means too. I studied attentively and minutely the dress, the air, the manner, the address, and the turn of conversation of all those whom I found to be the people in fashion, and most generally allowed to please. I imitated them as well as I could: if I heard that one man was reckoned remarkably genteel, I carefully watched his dress, motions, and attitudes, and formed my own upon them. When I heard of another whose conversation was agreeable and engaging I listened and attended to the turn of it. I addressed myself, though de très mauvaise grâce [with a very bad grace], to all the most fashionable fine ladies; confessed and laughed with them at my own[Pg xi] awkwardness and rawness, recommending myself as an object for them to try their skill in forming.”

Lord Bacon says: “To attain good manners it almost sufficeth not to despise them, and that if a man labor too much to express them, he shall lose their grace, which is to be natural and unaffected.”

To these testimonies we may add the observation of La Rochefoucauld, that “in manners there are no good copies, for besides that the copy is almost always clumsy or exaggerated, the air which is suited to one person sits ill upon another.”

The greater must have been the genius of Chesterfield which enabled him to make the graces of others his own, appropriating them only so far as they fitted him, instead of blindly and servilely imitating his models.

C. P. Bronson truly says: “In politeness, as in every thing else connected with the formation of character, we are too apt to begin on the outside, instead of the inside; instead of beginning with the heart, and trusting to that to form the manners, many begin with the manners, and leave the heart to chance and influences. The golden rule contains the very life and soul of politeness: ‘Do unto others as you would they should do unto you.’ Unless children and youth are taught, by precept and example, to abhor what is selfish, and prefer another’s pleasure and comfort to their own, their politeness will be entirely artificial, and used only when interest and policy dictate. True politeness is perfect freedom and ease, treating others just as you love to be treated. Nature is always graceful: affectation, with all her art, can never produce any thing half so pleasing. The very perfection of elegance is to imitate nature; how much better to have the reality than the imitation! Anxiety about the opinions of others fetters the freedom of nature and tends to awkwardness; all would appear well if they never tried to assume what they do not possess.”

A writer in Life Illustrated, to whose excellent observations on etiquette we shall have further occasion to refer, contends that the instinct of courtesy is peculiarly strong in the American people. “It is shown,” he says, “in the civility which marks our intercourse with one another. It is shown in the deference which is universally paid to the presence of the gentler sex. It is shown in the excessive fear which prevails among us of offending public opinion. It is shown in the very extravagances of our costume and decoration, in our lavish expenditures upon house and equipage. It is shown in the avidity with which every new work is bought and read which[Pg xii] pretends to lay down the laws that govern the behavior of circles supposed to be, par excellence, polite. It is shown in the fact, that, next to calling a man a liar, the most offensive and stinging of all possible expressions is, ‘You are no gentleman!’”

He claims that this is a national trait, and expresses the belief that every uncorrupt American man desires to be, and to be thought, a gentleman; that every uncorrupt American woman desires to be, and to be thought, a lady.

“But,” he adds, “the instinct of courtesy is not enough, nor is opportunity equivalent to possession. The truth is palpable, that our men are not all gentlemen, nor our women all ladies, nor our children all docile and obliging. In that small and insignificant circle which is called ‘Society,’ which, small and insignificant as it is, gives the tone to the manners of the nation, the chief efforts seem to be, to cleanse the outside of the platter, to conceal defects by gloss and glitter. Its theory of politeness and its maxims of behavior are drawn from a state of things so different from that which here prevails, that they produce in us little besides an exaggerated ungracefulness, a painful constraint, a complete artificiality of conduct and character. We are trying to shine in borrowed plumes. We would glisten with foreign varnish. To produce an effect is our endeavor. We prefer to act, rather than live. The politeness which is based on sincerity, good-will, self-conquest, and a minute, habitual regard for the rights of others, is not, we fear, the politeness which finds favor in the saloons upon which the upholsterer has exhausted the resources of his craft. Yet without possessing, in a certain degree, the qualities we have named, no man ever did, and no man ever will, become a gentleman. Where they do not bear sway, society may be brilliant in garniture, high in pretension, but it is intrinsically and incurably vulgar!”

The utility of good manners is universally acknowledged perhaps, but the extent to which genuine courtesy may be made to contribute to our success as well as our happiness is hardly realized. We can not more satisfactorily illustrate this point than by quoting the following lesson of experience from the Autobiography of the late Dr. Caldwell, the celebrated physician and phrenologist:

“In the year 1825 I made, in London, in a spirit of wager, a decisive and satisfactory experiment as to the effect of civil and courteous manners on people of various ranks and descriptions.

“There were in a place a number of young Americans, who often complained to me of the neglect and rudeness experienced by them[Pg xiii] from citizens to whom they spoke in the streets. They asserted, in particular, that as often as they requested directions to any point in the city toward which they were proceeding, they either received an uncivil and evasive answer, or none at all. I told them that my experience on the same subject had been exceedingly different: that I had never failed to receive a civil reply to my questions—often communicating the information requested: and that I could not help suspecting that their failure to receive similar answers arose, in part at least, if not entirely, to the plainness, not to say the bluntness, of their manner in making their inquiries. The correctness of this charge, however, they sturdily denied, asserting that their manner of asking for information was good enough for those to whom they addressed themselves. Unable to convince them by words of the truth of my suspicions, I proposed to them the following simple and conclusive experiment:

“‘Let us take together a walk of two or three hours in some of the public streets of the city. You shall yourselves designate the persons to whom I shall propose questions, and the subjects also to which the question shall relate; and the only restriction imposed is, that no question shall be proposed to any one who shall appear to be greatly hurried, agitated, distressed, or any other way deeply preoccupied, in mind or body, and no one shall speak to the person questioned but myself.’

“My proposition being accepted, out we sallied, and to work we went; and I continued my experiment until my young friends surrendered at discretion, frankly acknowledging that my opinion was right, and theirs, of course was wrong; and that, in our passage through life, courtesy of address and deportment may be made both a pleasant and powerful means to attain our ends and gratify our wishes.

“I put questions to more than twenty persons of every rank, from the high-bred gentleman to the servant in livery, and received in every instance a satisfactory reply. If the information asked for was not imparted, the individual addressed gave an assurance of his at being unable to communicate it.

“What seemed to surprise my friends was, that the individuals accosted by me almost uniformly imitated my own manner. If I uncovered my head, as I did in speaking to a gentleman, or even to a man of ordinary appearance and breeding, he did the same in his reply; and when I touched my hat to a liveried coachman or waiting man, his hat was immediately under his arm. So much may be[Pg xiv] done, and such advantages gained, by simply avoiding coarseness and vulgarity, and being well bred and agreeable. Nor can the case be otherwise. For the foundation of good breeding is good nature and good sense—two of the most useful and indispensable attributes of a well-constituted mind. Let it not be forgotten, however, that good breeding is not to be regarded as identical with politeness—a mistake which is too frequently, if not generally, committed. A person may be exceedingly polite without the much higher and more valuable accomplishment of good breeding.”

Believing that the natural qualities essential to the character of the gentleman or the lady exist in a high degree among our countrymen and countrywomen, and that they universally desire to develop these qualities, and to add to them the necessary knowledge of all the truly significant and living forms and usages of good society, we have written the work now before you. We have not the vanity to believe that the mere reading of it will, of itself, convert an essentially vulgar person into a lady or a gentleman; but we do hope that we have furnished those who most need it with available and efficient aid; and in this hope we dedicate this little “Manual of Republican Etiquette” to all who are, or would be, in the highest sense of these terms, TRUE REPUBLICAN LADIES OR GENTLEMEN

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