Hints for Gentlemanly behaviour

how to behave like a gentleman

The art of being a Gentleman is timeless, which is proved by the excellent book The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Cecil B. Hartley. A book that was released already in year 1860, but which wisdom is more relevant than ever today.

In chapter six of the book Hartley lists hundred hints for the man that wants to act like a gentleman. The Society has of course changed a lot since those days, but if we could live a bit more according to the rules below the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

So, make yourself a favor and study these hints carefully and soon you will become a much more appreciated person among your fellow human beings. It’s good to every now and then repeat the rules to get a reminder of what is important when socializing.

Chapter XI 

From The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Cecil B. Hartley (1860)


1. Always avoid any rude or boisterous action, especially when in the presence of ladies. It is not necessary to be stiff, indolent, or sullenly silent, neither is perfect gravity always required, but if you jest let it be with quiet, gentlemanly wit, never depending upon clownish gestures for the effect of a story. Nothing marks the gentleman so soon and so decidedly as quiet, refined ease of manner.

2. Never allow a lady to get a chair for herself, ring a bell, pick up a handkerchief or glove she may have dropped, or, in short, perform any service for herself which you can perform for her, when you are in the room. By extending such courtesies to your mother, sisters, or other members of your family, they become habitual, and are thus more gracefully performed when abroad.

3. Never perform any little service for another with a formal bow or manner as if conferring a favor, but with a quiet gentlemanly ease as if it were, not a ceremonious, unaccustomed performance, but a matter of course, for you to be courteous.

4. It is not necessary to tell all that you know; that{187} were mere folly; but what a man says must be what he believes himself, else he violates the first rule for a gentleman’s speech—Truth.

5. Avoid gambling as you would poison. Every bet made, even in the most finished circles of society, is a species of gambling, and this ruinous crime comes on by slow degrees. Whilst a man is minding his business, he is playing the best game, and he is sure to win. You will be tempted to the vice by those whom the world calls gentlemen, but you will find that loss makes you angry, and an angry man is never a courteous one; gain excites you to continue the pursuit of the vice; and, in the end you will lose money, good name, health, good conscience, light heart, and honesty; while you gain evil associates, irregular hours and habits, a suspicious, fretful temper, and a remorseful, tormenting conscience. Some one must lose in the game; and, if you win it, it is at the risk of driving a fellow creature to despair.

6. Cultivate tact! In society it will be an invaluable aid. Talent is something, but tact is everything. Talent is serious, sober, grave, and respectable; tact is all that and more too. It is not a sixth sense, but it is the life of all the five. It is the open eye, the quick ear, the judging taste, the keen smell, and the lively touch; it is the interpreter of all riddles—the surmounter of all difficulties—the remover of all obstacles. It is useful in all places, and at all times; it is useful in solitude, for it shows a man his way into the world; it is useful in society, for it shows him his way through the world. Talent is power—tact is skill; talent is weight—tact is momentum; talent knows what to do—tact knows how to do it;{188} talent makes a man respectable—tact will make him respected; talent is wealth—tact is ready money. For all the practical purposes of society tact carries against talent ten to one.

7. Nature has left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though all cannot shine in company; but there are many men sufficiently qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that a little attention would soon correct, are not so much as tolerable. Watch, avoid such faults.

8. Habits of self-possession and self-control acquired early in life, are the best foundation for the formation of gentlemanly manners. If you unite with this the constant intercourse with ladies and gentlemen of refinement and education, you will add to the dignity of perfect self command, the polished ease of polite society.

9. Avoid a conceited manner. It is exceedingly ill-bred to assume a manner as if you were superior to those around you, and it is, too, a proof, not of superiority but of vulgarity. And to avoid this manner, avoid the foundation of it, and cultivate humility. The praises of others should be of use to you, in teaching, not what you are, perhaps, but in pointing out what you ought to be.

10. Avoid pride, too; it often miscalculates, and more often misconceives. The proud man places himself at a distance from other men; seen through that distance, others, perhaps, appear little to him; but he forgets that this very distance causes him also to appear little to others.

11. A gentleman’s title suggests to him humility and affability; to be easy of access, to pass by neglects and{189} offences, especially from inferiors; neither to despise any for their bad fortune or misery, nor to be afraid to own those who are unjustly oppressed; not to domineer over inferiors, nor to be either disrespectful or cringing to superiors; not standing upon his family name, or wealth, but making these secondary to his attainments in civility, industry, gentleness, and discretion.

12. Chesterfield says, “All ceremonies are, in themselves, very silly things; but yet a man of the world should know them. They are the outworks of manners, which would be too often broken in upon if it were not for that defence which keeps the enemy at a proper distance. It is for that reason I always treat fools and coxcombs with great ceremony, true good breeding not being a sufficient barrier against them.”

13. When you meet a lady at the foot of a flight of stairs, do not wait for her to ascend, but bow, and go up before her.

14. In meeting a lady at the head of a flight of stairs, wait for her to precede you in the descent.

15. Avoid slang. It does not beautify, but it sullies conversation. “Just listen, for a moment, to our fast young man, or the ape of a fast young man, who thinks that to be a man he must speak in the dark phraseology of slang. If he does anything on his own responsibility, he does it on his own ‘hook.’ If he sees anything remarkably good, he calls it a ‘stunner,’ the superlative of which is a ‘regular stunner.’ If a man is requested to pay a tavern bill, he is asked if he will ‘stand Sam.’ If he meets a savage-looking dog, he calls him an ‘ugly customer.’ If he meets an eccentric man, he calls him{190} a ‘rummy old cove.’ A sensible man is a ‘chap that is up to snuff.’ Our young friend never scolds, but ‘blows up;’ never pays, but ‘stumps up;’ never finds it too difficult to pay, but is ‘hard up.’ He has no hat, but shelters his head beneath a ‘tile.’ He wears no neckcloth, but surrounds his throat with a ‘choker.’ He lives nowhere, but there is some place where he ‘hangs out.’ He never goes away or withdraws, but he ‘bolts’—he ‘slopes’—he ‘mizzles’—he ‘makes himself scarce’—he ‘walks his chalks’—he ‘makes tracks’—he ‘cuts stick’—or, what is the same thing, he ‘cuts his lucky!’ The highest compliment that you can pay him is to tell him that he is a ‘regular brick.’ He does not profess to be brave, but he prides himself on being ‘plucky.’ Money is a word which he has forgotten, but he talks a good deal about ‘tin,’ and the ‘needful,’ ‘the rhino,’ and ‘the ready.’ When a man speaks, he ‘spouts;’ when he holds his peace, he ‘shuts up;’ when he is humiliated, he is ‘taken down a peg or two,’ and made to ‘sing small.’ Now, besides the vulgarity of such expressions, there is much in slang that is objectionable in a moral point of view. For example, the word ‘governor,’ as applied to a father, is to be reprehended. Does it not betray, on the part of young men, great ignorance of the paternal and filial relationship, or great contempt for them? Their father is to such young men merely a governor,—merely a representative of authority. Innocently enough the expression is used by thousands of young men who venerate and love their parents; but only think of it, and I am sure that you will admit that it is a cold,{191} heartless word when thus applied, and one that ought forthwith to be abandoned.”

16. There are few traits of social life more repulsive than tyranny. I refer not to the wrongs, real or imaginary, that engage our attention in ancient and modern history; my tyrants are not those who have waded through blood to thrones, and grievously oppress their brother men. I speak of the petty tyrants of the fireside and the social circle, who trample like very despots on the opinions of their fellows. You meet people of this class everywhere; they stalk by your side in the streets; they seat themselves in the pleasant circle on the hearth, casting a gloom on gayety; and they start up dark and scowling in the midst of scenes of innocent mirth, to chill and frown down every participator. They “pooh! pooh!” at every opinion advanced; they make the lives of their mothers, sisters, wives, children, unbearable. Beware then of tyranny. A gentleman is ever humble, and the tyrant is never courteous.

17. Cultivate the virtues of the soul, strong principle, incorruptible integrity, usefulness, refined intellect, and fidelity in seeking for truth. A man in proportion as he has these virtues will be honored and welcomed everywhere.

18. Gentility is neither in birth, wealth, or fashion, but in the mind. A high sense of honor, a determination never to take a mean advantage of another, adherence to truth, delicacy and politeness towards those with whom we hold intercourse, are the essential characteristics of a gentleman.

19. Little attentions to your mother, your wife, and{192} your sister, will beget much love. The man who is a rude husband, son, and brother, cannot be a gentleman; he may ape the manners of one, but, wanting the refinement of heart that would make him courteous at home, his politeness is but a thin cloak to cover a rude, unpolished mind.

20. At table, always eat slowly, but do not delay those around you by toying with your food, or neglecting the business before you to chat, till all the others are ready to leave the table, but must wait until you repair your negligence, by hastily swallowing your food.

21. Are you a husband? Custom entitles you to be the “lord and master” over your household. But don’t assume the master and sink the lord. Remember that noble generosity, forbearance, amiability, and integrity are the lordlyattributes of man. As a husband, therefore, exhibit the true nobility of man, and seek to govern your household by the display of high moral excellence.

A domineering spirit—a fault-finding petulance—impatience of trifling delays—and the exhibition of unworthy passion at the slightest provocation can add no laurel to your own “lordly” brow, impart no sweetness to home, and call forth no respect from those by whom you may be surrounded. It is one thing to be a master, another to be a man. The latter should be the husband’s aspiration; for he who cannot govern himself, is ill-qualified to rule others. You can hardly imagine how refreshing it is to occasionally call up the recollection of your courting days. How tediously the hours rolled away prior to the appointed time of meeting; how swift they seemed to fly, when met; how fond was the{193} first greeting; how tender the last embrace; how fervent were your vows; how vivid your dreams of future happiness, when, returning to your home, you felt yourself secure in the confessed love of the object of your warm affections! Is your dream realized?—are you so happy as you expected?—why not? Consider whether as a husband you are as fervent and constant as you were when a lover. Remember that the wife’s claims to your unremitting regard—great before marriage, are now exalted to a much higher degree. She has left the world for you—the home of her childhood, the fireside of her parents, their watchful care and sweet intercourse have all been yielded up for you. Look then most jealously upon all that may tend to attract you from home, and to weaken that union upon which your temporal happiness mainly depends; and believe that in the solemn relationship of HUSBAND is to be found one of the best guarantees for man’s honor and happiness.

22. Perhaps the true definition of a gentleman is this: “Whoever is open, loyal, and true; whoever is of humane and affable demeanor; whoever is honorable in himself, and in his judgment of others, and requires no law but his word to make him fulfil an engagement; such a man is a gentleman, be he in the highest or lowest rank of life, a man of elegant refinement and intellect, or the most unpolished tiller of the ground.”

23. In the street, etiquette does not require a gentleman to take off his glove to shake hands with a lady, unless her hand is uncovered. In the house, however, the rule is imperative, he must not offer a lady a gloved hand. In the street, if his hand be very warm or very{194} cold, or the glove cannot be readily removed, it is much better to offer the covered hand than to offend the lady’s touch, or delay the salutation during an awkward fumble to remove the glove.

24. Sterne says, “True courtship consists in a number of quiet, gentlemanly attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, not so vague as to be misunderstood.” A clown will terrify by his boldness, a proud man chill by his reserve, but a gentleman will win by the happy mixture of the two.

25. Use no profane language, utter no word that will cause the most virtuous to blush. Profanity is a mark of low breeding; and the tendency of using indecent and profane language is degrading to your minds. Its injurious effects may not be felt at the moment, but they will continue to manifest themselves to you through life. They may never be obliterated; and, if you allow the fault to become habitual, you will often find at your tongue’s end some expressions which you would not use for any money. By being careful on this point you may save yourself much mortification and sorrow.

“Good men have been taken sick and become delirious. In these moments they have used the most vile and indecent language. When informed of it, after a restoration to health, they had no idea of the pain they had given to their friends, and stated that they had learned and repeated the expressions in childhood, and though years had passed since they had spoken a bad word, the early impressions had been indelibly stamped upon the mind.”

Think of this, ye who are tempted to use improper{195} language, and never let a vile word disgrace you. An oath never falls from the tongue of the man who commands respect.

Honesty, frankness, generosity, and virtue are noble traits. Let these be yours, and do not fear. You will then claim the esteem and love of all.

26. Courteous and friendly conduct may, probably will, sometimes meet with an unworthy and ungrateful return; but the absence of gratitude and similar courtesy on the part of the receiver cannot destroy the self-approbation which recompenses the giver. We may scatter the seeds of courtesy and kindness around us at little expense. Some of them will inevitably fall on good ground, and grow up into benevolence in the minds of others, and all of them will bear the fruit of happiness in the bosom whence they spring. A kindly action always fixes itself on the heart of the truly thoughtful and polite man.

27. Learn to restrain anger. A man in a passion ceases to be a gentleman, and if you do not control your passions, rely upon it, they will one day control you. The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves, and we injure our own cause in the opinion of the world when we too passionately and eagerly defend it. Neither will all men be disposed to view our quarrels in the same light that we do; and a man’s blindness to his own defects will ever increase in proportion as he is angry with others, or pleased with himself. An old English writer says:—

“As a preventative of anger, banish all tale-bearers and slanderers from your conversation, for it is these{196} blow the devil’s bellows to rouse up the flames of rage and fury, by first abusing your ears, and then your credulity, and after that steal away your patience, and all this, perhaps, for a lie. To prevent anger, be not too inquisitive into the affairs of others, or what people say of yourself, or into the mistakes of your friends, for this is going out to gather sticks to kindle a fire to burn your own house.”

28. Keep good company or none. You will lose your own self-respect, and habits of courtesy sooner and more effectually by intercourse with low company, than in any other manner; while, in good company, these virtues will be cultivated and become habitual.

29. Keep your engagements. Nothing is ruder than to make an engagement, be it of business or pleasure, and break it. If your memory is not sufficiently retentive to keep all the engagements you make stored within it, carry a little memorandum book and enter them there. Especially, keep any appointment made with a lady, for, depend upon it, the fair sex forgive any other fault in good breeding, sooner than a broken engagement.

30. Avoid personality; nothing is more ungentlemanly. The tone of good company is marked by its entire absence. Among well-informed persons there are plenty of topics to discuss, without giving pain to any one present.

31. Make it a rule to be always punctual in keeping an appointment, and, when it is convenient, be a little beforehand. Such a habit ensures that composure and ease which is the very essence of gentlemanly deportment; want of it keeps you always in a fever and bustle{197} and no man who is hurried and feverish appears so well as he whose punctuality keeps him cool and composed.

32. It is right to cultivate a laudable ambition, but do not exaggerate your capacity. The world will not give you credit for half what you esteem yourself. Some men think it so much gained to pass for more than they are worth; but in most cases the deception will be discovered, sooner or later, and the rebound will be greater than the gain. We may, therefore, set it down as a truth, that it is a damage to a man to have credit for greater powers than he possesses.

33. Be ready to apologize when you have committed a fault which gives offence. Better, far better, to retain a friend by a frank, courteous apology for offence given, than to make an enemy by obstinately denying or persisting in the fault.

34. An apology made to yourself must be accepted. No matter how great the offence, a gentleman cannot keep his anger after an apology has been made, and thus, amongst truly well-bred men, an apology is always accepted.

35. Unless you have something of real importance to ask or communicate, do not stop a gentleman in the street during business hours. You may detain him from important engagements, and, though he may be too well-bred to show annoyance, he will not thank you for such detention.

36. If, when on your way to fulfil an engagement, a friend stops you in the street, you may, without committing any breach of etiquette, tell him of your appointment,{198} and release yourself from a long talk, but do so in a courteous manner, expressing regret for the necessity.

37. If, when meeting two gentlemen, you are obliged to detain one of them, apologize to the other for so doing, whether he is an acquaintance or a stranger, and do not keep him waiting a moment longer than is necessary.

38. Have you a sister? Then love and cherish her with all that pure and holy friendship which renders a brother so worthy and noble. Learn to appreciate her sweet influence as portrayed in the following words:

“He who has never known a sister’s kind administration, nor felt his heart warming beneath her endearing smile and love-beaming eye, has been unfortunate indeed. It is not to be wondered at if the fountains of pure feeling flow in his bosom but sluggishly, or if the gentle emotions of his nature be lost in the sterner attributes of mankind.

“‘That man has grown up among affectionate sisters,’ I once heard a lady of much observation and experience remark.

“‘And why do you think so?’ said I.

“‘Because of the rich development of all the tender feelings of the heart.’

“A sister’s influence is felt even in manhood’s riper years; and the heart of him who has grown cold in chilly contact with the world will warm and thrill with pure enjoyment as some accident awakens within him the soft tones, the glad melodies of his sister’s voice; and he will turn from purposes which a warped and false philosophy had reasoned into expediency, and even weep{199} for the gentle influences which moved him in his earlier years.”

The man who would treat a sister with harshness, rudeness, or disrespect, is unworthy of the name of gentleman, for he thus proves that the courtesies he extends to other ladies, are not the promptings of the heart, but the mere external signs of etiquette; the husk without the sweet fruit within.

39. When walking with a friend in the street, never leave him to speak to another friend without apologizing for so doing.

40. If walking with a lady, never leave her alone in the street, under any circumstances. It is a gross violation of etiquette to do so.

41. The most truly gentlemanly man is he who is the most unselfish, so I would say in the words of the Rev. J. A. James:

“Live for some purpose in the world. Act your part well. Fill up the measure of duty to others. Conduct yourselves so that you shall be missed with sorrow when you are gone. Multitudes of our species are living in such a selfish manner that they are not likely to be remembered after their disappearance. They leave behind them scarcely any traces of their existence, but are forgotten almost as though they had never been. They are while they live, like one pebble lying unobserved amongst a million on the shore; and when they die, they are like that same pebble thrown into the sea, which just ruffles the surface, sinks, and is forgotten, without being missed from the beach. They are neither regretted by the rich, wanted by the poor, nor celebrated by the learned.{200} Who has been the better for their life? Who has been the worse for their death? Whose tears have they dried up? whose wants supplied? whose miseries have they healed? Who would unbar the gate of life, to re-admit them to existence? or what face would greet them back again to our world with a smile? Wretched, unproductive mode of existence! Selfishness is its own curse; it is a starving vice. The man who does no good, gets none. He is like the heath in the desert, neither yielding fruit, nor seeing when good cometh—a stunted, dwarfish, miserable shrub.”

42. Separate the syllables of the word gentleman, and you will see that the first requisite must be gentleness—gentle-man. Mackenzie says, “Few persons are sufficiently aware of the power of gentleness. It is slow in working, but it is infallible in its results. It makes no noise; it neither invites attention, nor provokes resistance; but it is God’s great law, in the moral as in the natural world, for accomplishing great results. The progressive dawn of day, the flow of the tide, the lapse of time, the changes of the seasons—these are carried on by slow and imperceptible degrees, yet their progress and issue none can mistake or resist. Equally certain and surprising are the triumphs of gentleness. It assumes nothing, yet it can disarm the stoutest opposition; it yields, but yielding is the element of its strength; it endures, but in the warfare victory is not gained by doing, but by suffering.”

43. Perfect composure of manner requires perfect peace of mind, so you should, as far as lies in human power, avoid the evils which make an unquiet mind, and,{201} first of all, avoid that cheating, swindling process called “running in debt.” Owe no man anything; avoid it as you would avoid war, pestilence, and famine. Hate it with a perfect hatred. As you value comfort, quiet, and independence, keep out of debt. As you value a healthy appetite, placid temper, pleasant dreams, and happy wakings, keep out of debt. It is the hardest of all task-masters; the most cruel of all oppressors. It is a mill-stone about the neck. It is an incubus on the heart. It furrows the forehead with premature wrinkles. It drags the nobleness and kindness out of the port and bearing of a man; it takes the soul out of his laugh, and all stateliness and freedom from his walk. Come not, then, under its crushing dominion.

44. Speak gently; a kind refusal will often wound less than a rough, ungracious assent.

45. “In private, watch your thoughts; in your family, watch your temper; in society, watch your tongue.”

46. The true secret of pleasing all the world, is to have an humble opinion of yourself. True goodness is invariably accompanied by gentleness, courtesy, and humility. Those people who are always “sticking on their dignity,” are continually losing friends, making enemies, and fostering a spirit of unhappiness in themselves.

47. Are you a merchant? Remember that the counting-house is no less a school of manners and temper than a school of morals. Vulgarity, imperiousness, peevishness, caprice on the part of the heads, will produce their corresponding effects upon the household. Some merchants are petty tyrants. Some are too surly to be fit for any charge, unless it be that of taming a shrew.{202} The coarseness of others, in manner and language, must either disgust or contaminate all their subordinates. In one establishment you will encounter an unmanly levity, which precludes all discipline. In another, a mock dignity, which supplies the juveniles with a standing theme of ridicule. In a third, a capriciousness of mood and temper, which reminds one of the prophetic hints of the weather in the old almanacks—“windy”—“cool”—“very pleasant”—“blustering”—“look out for storms”—and the like. And, in a fourth, a selfish acerbity, which exacts the most unreasonable services, and never cheers a clerk with a word of encouragement.—These are sad infirmities. Men ought not to have clerks until they know how to treat them. Their own comfort, too, would be greatly enhanced by a different deportment.

48. If you are about to enter, or leave, a store or any door, and unexpectedly meet a lady going the other way, stand aside and raise your hat whilst she passes. If she is going the same way, and the door is closed, pass before her, saying, “allow me,” or, “permit me,”—open the door, and hold it open whilst she passes.

49. In entering a room where you will meet ladies, take your hat, cane, and gloves in your left hand, that your right may be free to offer to them.

50. Never offer to shake hands with a lady; she will, if she wishes you to do so, offer her hand to you, and it is an impertinence for you to do so first.

51. If you are seated in the most comfortable chair in a public room, and a lady, an invalid, or an old man enters, rise, and offer your seat, even if they are strangers to you. Many men will attend to these civilities{203} when with friends or acquaintances, and neglect them amongst strangers, but the true gentleman will not wait for an introduction before performing an act of courtesy.

52. As both flattery and slander are in the highest degree blameable and ungentlemanly, I would quote the rule of Bishop Beveridge, which effectually prevents both. He says, “Never speak of a man’s virtue before his face, nor of his faults behind his back.”

53. Never enter a room, in which there are ladies, after smoking, until you have purified both your mouth, teeth, hair, and clothes. If you wish to smoke just before entering a saloon, wear an old coat and carefully brush your hair and teeth before resuming your own.

54. Never endeavor to attract the attention of a friend by nudging him, touching his foot or hand secretly, or making him a gesture. If you cannot speak to him frankly, you had best let him alone; for these signals are generally made with the intention of ridiculing a third person, and that is the height of rudeness.

55. Button-holding is a common but most blameable breach of good manners. If a man requires to be forcibly detained to listen to you, you are as rude in thus detaining him, as if you had put a pistol to his head and threatened to blow his brains out if he stirred.

56. It is a great piece of rudeness to make a remark in general company, which is intelligible to one person only. To call out, “George, I met D. L. yesterday, and he says he will attend to that matter,” is as bad as if you went to George and whispered in his ear.

57. In your intercourse with servants, nothing will{204} mark you as a well-bred man, so much as a gentle, courteous manner. A request will make your wishes attended to as quickly as a command, and thanks for a service, oil the springs of the servant’s labor immensely. Rough, harsh commands may make your orders obeyed well and promptly, but they will be executed unwillingly, in fear, and, probably, dislike, while courtesy and kindness will win a willing spirit as well as prompt service.

58. Avoid eccentric conduct. It does not, as many suppose, mark a man of genius. Most men of true genius are gentlemanly and reserved in their intercourse with other men, and there are many fools whose folly is called eccentricity.

59. Avoid familiarity. Neither treat others with too great cordiality nor suffer them to take liberties with you. To check the familiarity of others, you need not become stiff, sullen, nor cold, but you will find that excessive politeness on your own part, sometimes with a little formality, will soon abash the intruder.

60. Lazy, lounging attitudes in the presence of ladies are very rude.

61. It is only the most arrant coxcomb who will boast of the favor shown him by a lady, speak of her by her first name, or allow others to jest with him upon his friendship or admiration for her. If he really admires her, and has reason to hope for a future engagement with her, her name should be as sacred to him as if she were already his wife; if, on the contrary, he is not on intimate terms with her, then he adds a lie to his excessively bad breeding, when using her name familiarly.

{205}62. “He that can please nobody is not so much to be pitied as he that nobody can please.”

63. Speak without obscurity or affectation. The first is a mark of pedantry, the second a sign of folly. A wise man will speak always clearly and intelligibly.

64. To betray a confidence is to make yourself despicable. Many things are said among friends which are not said under a seal of secrecy, but are understood to be confidential, and a truly honorable man will never violate this tacit confidence. It is really as sacred as if the most solemn promises of silence bound your tongue; more so, indeed, to the true gentleman, as his sense of honor, not his word, binds him.

65. Chesterfield says, “As learning, honor, and virtue are absolutely necessary to gain you the esteem and admiration of mankind, politeness and good breeding are equally necessary to make you welcome and agreeable in conversation and common life. Great talents, such as honor, virtue, learning, and parts are above the generality of the world, who neither possess them themselves nor judge of them rightly in others; but all people are judges of the lesser talents, such as civility, affability, and an obliging, agreeable address and manner; because they feel the good effects of them, as making society easy and pleasing.”

66. “Good sense must, in many cases, determine good breeding; because the same thing that would be civil at one time and to one person, may be quite otherwise at another time and to another person.”

67. Nothing can be more ill-bred than to meet a polite{206} remark addressed to you, either with inattention or a rude answer.

68. Spirit is now a very fashionable word, but it is terribly misapplied. In the present day to act with spirit and speak with spirit means to act rashly and speak indiscretely. A gentleman shows his spirit by firm, but gentle words and resolute actions. He is spirited but neither rash nor timid.

69. “Use kind words. They do not cost much. It does not take long to utter them. They never blister the tongue or lips in their passage into the world, or occasion any other kind of bodily suffering. And we have never heard of any mental trouble arising from this quarter.

“Though they do not COST much, yet they ACCOMPLISH much. They help one’s own good nature and good will. One cannot be in a habit of this kind, without thereby picking away something of the granite roughness of his own nature. Soft words will soften his own soul. Philosophers tell us that the angry words a man uses, in his passion, are fuel to the flame of his wrath, and make it blaze the more fiercely. Why, then, should not words of the opposite character produce opposite results, and that most blessed of all passions of the soul, kindness, be augmented by kind words? People that are forever speaking kindly, are forever disinclining themselves to ill-temper.

“Kind words make other people good natured. Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and sarcastic words irritate them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful.{207} And kind words also produce their own image on men’s souls. And a beautiful image it is. They soothe, and quiet, and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings, and he has to become kind himself.

“There is such a rush of all other kind of words, in our days, that it seems desirable to give kind words a chance among them. There are vain words, and idle words, and hasty words, and spiteful words, and silly words, and empty words. Now, kind words are better than the whole of them, and it is a pity that, among the improvements of the present age, birds of this feather might not have more chance than they have had to spread their wings.

“Kind words are in danger of being driven from the field, like frightened pigeons, in these days of boisterous words, and warlike words, and passionate words. They have not the brass to stand up, like so many grenadiers, and fight their own way among the throng. Besides, they have been out of use so long, that they hardly know whether they have any right to make their appearance any more in our bustling world; not knowing but that, perhaps, the world was done with them, and would not like their company any more.

“Let us welcome them back. We have not done with them. We have not yet begun to use them in such abundance as they ought to be used. We cannot spare them.”

70. The first step towards pleasing every one is to endeavor to offend no one. To give pain by a light or jesting remark is as much a breach of etiquette, as to{208} give pain by a wound made with a steel weapon, is a breach of humanity.

71. “A gentleman will never use his tongue to rail and brawl against any one; to speak evil of others in their absence; to exaggerate any of his statements; to speak harshly to children or to the poor; to swear, lie, or use improper language; to hazard random and improbable statements; to speak rashly or violently upon any subject; to deceive people by circulating false reports, or to offer up lip-service in religion. But he will use it to convey to mankind useful information; to instruct his family and others who need it; to warn and reprove the wicked; to comfort and console the afflicted; to cheer the timid and fearful; to defend the innocent and oppressed; to plead for the widow and orphan; to congratulate the success of the virtuous, and to confess, tearfully and prayerfully, his faults.”

72. Chesterfield says, “Civility is particularly due to all women; and, remember, that no provocation whatsoever can justify any man in not being civil to every woman; and the greatest man would justly be reckoned a brute if he were not civil to the meanest woman. It is due to their sex, and is the only protection they have against the superior strength of ours; nay, even a little is allowable with women: and a man may, without weakness, tell a women she is either handsomer or wiser than she is.” (Chesterfield would not have said this in the present age of strong minded, sensible women.)

73. There is much tact and good breeding to be displayed in the correction of any little error that may occur in conversation. To say, shortly,—“You are{209} wrong! I know better!” is rude, and your friends will much more readily admit an error if you say courteously and gently, “Pardon me, but I must take the liberty of correcting you,” or, “You will allow me, I am sure, to tell you that your informant made an error.” If such an error is of no real importance, it is better to let it pass unnoticed.

74. Intimate friends and relations should be careful when they go out into the world together, or admit others to their own circle, that they do not make a bad use of the knowledge which they have gained of each other by their intimacy. Nothing is more common than this; and, did it not mostly proceed from mere carelessness, it would be superlatively ungenerous. You seldom need wait for the written life of a man to hear about his weaknesses, or what are supposed to be such, if you know his intimate friends, or meet him in company with them.

75. In making your first visit anywhere, you will be less apt to offend by being too ceremonious, than by being too familiar.

76. With your friends remember the old proverb, that, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

77. If you meet, in society, with any one, be it a gentleman or a lady, whose timidity or bashfulness, shows them unaccustomed to meeting others, endeavor, by your own gentleness and courtesy, to place them more at ease, and introduce to them those who will aid you in this endeavor.

78. If, when walking with a gentleman friend, you meet a lady to whom your friend bows, you, too, must{210} touch or raise your hat, though you are not acquainted with the lady.

79. “Although it is now very much the custom, in many wealthy families, for the butler to remove the dishes from the table and carve them on the sideboard, thus saving trouble to the master or mistress of the house, and time to the guests, the practice is not so general even amongst what are called the higher classes of society that general instructions for carving will be uninteresting to them, to say nothing of the more numerous class, who, although enabled to place good dishes before their friends, are not wealthy enough to keep a butler if they were so inclined. Good carving is, to a certain extent, indicative of good society, for it proves to company that the host does not give a dinner party for the first time, but is accustomed to receive friends, and frequently to dispense the cheer of a hospitable board. The master or mistress of a house, who does not know how to carve, is not unfrequently looked upon as an ignorant parvenu, as a person who cannot take a hand at whist, in good society, is regarded as one who has passed his time in the parlor of a public house, playing at cribbage or all fours. Independently, however, of the importance of knowing how to carve well, for the purpose of regaling one’s friends and acquaintances, the science, and it is a science, is a valuable acquirement for any man, as it enables him, at a public or private dinner, to render valuable aid. There are many diners-out who are welcome merely because they know how to carve. Some men amuse by their conversation; others are favorites because they can sing a good song; but the man{211} who makes himself useful and agreeable to all, is he who carves with elegance and speed. We recommend the novice in this art, to keep a watchful eye upon every superior carver whom he may meet at dinner. In this way he will soon become well versed in the art and mystery of cutting up.”

80. Years may pass over our heads without affording an opportunity for acts of high beneficence or extensive utility; whereas, not a day passes, but in common transactions of life, and, especially in the intercourse of society, courtesy finds place for promoting the happiness of others, and for strengthening in ourselves the habits of unselfish politeness. There are situations, not a few, in human life, when an encouraging reception, a condescending behaviour, and a look of sympathy, bring greater relief to the heart than the most bountiful gift.

81. Cecil says, “You may easily make a sensation—but a sensation is a vulgar triumph. To keep up the sensation of an excitement, you must be always standing on your head (morally speaking), and the attitude, like everything overstrained, would become fatiguing to yourself and tedious to others. Whereas, to obtain permanent favor, as an agreeable, well-bred man, requires simply an exercise of the understanding.”

82. There is no vice more truly ungentlemanly than that of using profane language. Lamont says:

“Whatever fortune may be made by perjury, I believe there never was a man who made a fortune by common swearing. It often appears that men pay for swearing, but it seldom happens that they are paid for it. It is not easy to perceive what honor or credit is connected{212} with it. Does any man receive promotion because he is a notable blusterer? Or is any man advanced to dignity because he is expert at profane swearing? Never. Low must be the character which such impertinence will exalt: high must be the character which such impertinence will not degrade. Inexcusable, therefore, must be the practice which has neither reason nor passion to support it. The drunkard has his cups; the satirist, his revenge; the ambitious man, his preferments; the miser, his gold; but the common swearer has nothing; he is a fool at large, sells his soul for nought, and drudges in the service of the devil gratis. Swearing is void of all plea; it is not the native offspring of the soul, nor interwoven with the texture of the body, nor, anyhow, allied to our frame. For, as Tillotson expresses it, ‘Though some men pour out oaths as if they were natural, yet no man was ever born of a swearing constitution.’ But it is a custom, a low and a paltry custom, picked up by low and paltry spirits who have no sense of honor, no regard to decency, but are forced to substitute some rhapsody of nonsense to supply the vacancy of good sense. Hence, the silliness of the practice can only be equalled by the silliness of those who adopt it.”

83. Dr. Johnson says that to converse well “there must, in the first place, be knowledge—there must be materials; in the second place, there must be a command of words; in the third place, there must be imagination to place things in such views as they are not commonly seen in; and, in the fourth place, there must be a presence of mind, and a resolution that is not to be overcome{213} by failure—this last is an essential requisite; for want of it, many people do not excel in conversation.”

84. “Do not constantly endeavor to draw the attention of all upon yourself when in company. Leave room for your hearers to imagine something within you beyond what you speak; and, remember, the more you are praised the more you will be envied.”

85. Be very careful to treat with attention and respect those who have lately met with misfortunes, or have suffered from loss of fortune. Such persons are apt to think themselves slighted, when no such thing is intended. Their minds, being already sore, feel the least rub very severely, and who would thus cruelly add affliction to the afflicted? Not the gentleman certainly.

86. There is hardly any bodily blemish which a winning behavior will not conceal or make tolerable; and there is no external grace which ill-nature or affectation will not deform.

87. Good humor is the only shield to keep off the darts of the satirist; but if you are the first to laugh at a jest made upon yourself, others will laugh with you instead of at you.

88. Whenever you see a person insult his inferiors, you may feel assured that he is the man who will be servile and cringing to his superiors; and he who acts the bully to the weak, will play the coward when with the strong.

89. Maintain, in every word, a strict regard for perfect truth. Do not think of one falsity as harmless, another as slight, a third as unintended. Cast them all aside. They may be light and accidental, but they are{214} an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit for all that, and it is better to have your heart swept clean of them, without stopping to consider whether they are large and black.

90. The advantage and necessity of cheerfulness and intelligent intercourse with the world is strongly to be recommended. A man who keeps aloof from society and lives only for himself, does not fulfil the wise intentions of Providence, who designed that we should be a mutual help and comfort to each other in life.

91. Chesterfield says, “Merit and good breeding will make their way everywhere. Knowledge will introduce man, and good breeding will endear him to the best companies; for, politeness and good breeding are absolutely necessary to adorn any, or all, other good qualities or talents. Without them, no knowledge, no perfection whatever, is seen in its best light. The scholar, without good breeding, is a pedant; the philosopher, a cynic; the soldier, a brute; and every man disagreeable.”

92. It is very seldom that a man may permit himself to tell stories in society; they are, generally, tedious, and, to many present, will probably have all the weariness of a “twice-told tale.” A short, brilliant anecdote, which is especially applicable to the conversation going on, is all that a well-bred man will ever permit himself to inflict.

93. It is better to take the tone of the society into which you are thrown, than to endeavor to lead others after you. The way to become truly popular is to be grave with the grave, jest with the gay, and converse sensibly with those who seek to display their sense.

{215}94. Watch each of your actions, when in society, that all the habits which you contract there may be useful and good ones. Like flakes of snow that fall unperceived upon the earth, the seemingly unimportant events of life succeed one another. As the snow gathers together, so are our habits formed. No single flake that is added to the pile produces a sensible change—no single action creates, however it may exhibit, a man’s character; but, as the tempest hurls the avalanche down the mountain, and overwhelms the inhabitant and his habitation, so passion, acting upon the elements of mischief, which pernicious habits have brought together by imperceptible accumulation, may overthrow the edifice of truth and virtue.

95. There is no greater fault in good breeding than too great diffidence. Shyness cramps every motion, clogs every word. The only way to overcome the fault is to mix constantly in society, and the habitual intercourse with others will give you the graceful ease of manner which shyness utterly destroys.

96. If you are obliged to leave a large company at an early hour, take French leave. Slip away unperceived, if you can, but, at any rate, without any formal leave-taking.

97. Avoid quarrels. If you are convinced, even, that you have the right side in an argument, yield your opinion gracefully, if this is the only way to avoid a quarrel, saying, “We cannot agree, I see, but this inability must not deprive me of a friend, so we will discuss the subject no further.” Few men will be able to resist your courtesy and good nature, but many would try to{216} combat an obstinate adherence to your own side of the question.

98. Avoid the filthy habit of which foreigners in this country so justly complain—I mean spitting.

99. If any one bows to you in the street, return the bow. It may be an acquaintance whose face you do not immediately recognize, and if it is a stranger who mistakes you for another, your courteous bow will relieve him from the embarrassment arising from his mistake.

100. The following hints on conversation conclude the chapter:—

“Conversation may be carried on successfully by persons who have no idea that it is or may be an art, as clever things are sometimes done without study. But there can be no certainty of good conversation in ordinary circumstances, and amongst ordinary minds, unless certain rules be observed, and certain errors be avoided.

“The first and greatest rule unquestionably is, that all must be favorably disposed towards each other, and willing to be pleased. There must be no sullen or uneasy-looking person—no one who evidently thinks he has fallen into unsuitable company, and whose sole aim it is to take care lest his dignity be injured—no one whose feelings are of so morose or ascetic a kind that he cannot join without observable pain and hesitation in the playfulness of the scene—no matter-of-fact person, who takes all things literally, and means all things literally, and thinks it as great a crime to say something in jest as to do it in earnest. One of any of these classes of persons is sufficient to mar the enjoyments of a hundred.{217} The matter-of-factish may do very well with the matter-of-factish, the morose with the morose, the stilted with the stilted; and they should accordingly keep amongst themselves respectively. But, for what is generally recognized as agreeable conversation, minds exempted from these peculiarities are required.

“The ordinary rules of politeness are, of course, necessary—no rudeness, no offence to each other’s self-esteem; on the contrary, much mutual deference is required, in order to keep all the elements of a company sweet. Sometimes, however, there is a very turbid kind of conversation, where there is no want of common good breeding. This, most frequently, arises from there being too great a disposition to speak, and too small a disposition to listen. Too many are eager to get their ideas expressed, or to attract attention; and the consequence is, that nothing is heard but broken snatches and fragments of discourse, in which there is neither profit nor entertainment. No man listens to what another has to say, and then makes a relative or additionally illustrative remark. One may be heard for a minute, or half a minute, but it is with manifest impatience; and the moment he is done, or stops to draw breath, the other plunges in with what he had to say, being something quite of another strain, and referring to another subject. He in his turn is interrupted by a third, with the enunciation of some favorite ideas of his, equally irrelative; and thus conversation becomes no conversation, but a contention for permission to speak a few hurried words, which nobody cares to hear, or takes the trouble to answer. Meanwhile, the modest and weak sit silent and{218} ungratified. The want of regulation is here very manifest. It would be better to have a president who should allow everybody a minute in succession to speak without interruption, than thus to have freedom, and so monstrously to abuse it. The only remedy, as far as meetings by invitation are concerned, is to take care that no more eager talkers are introduced than are absolutely necessary to prevent conversation from flagging. One to every six or eight persons is the utmost that can be safely allowed.

“The danger of introducing politics, or any other notoriously controversial subject, in mixed companies, is so generally acknowledged, that conversation is in little danger—at least in polite circles—from that source. But wranglements, nevertheless, are apt to arise. Very frequently the company falls together by the ears in consequence of the starting of some topic in which facts are concerned—with which facts no one chances to be acquainted.

“Conversation is often much spoilt through slight inattentions or misapprehensions on the part of a particular member of the company. In the midst of some interesting narrative or discussion, he suddenly puts all to a stop, in order that some little perplexity may be explained, which he could never have fallen into, if he had been paying a fair degree of attention to what was going on. Or he has some precious prejudice jarred upon by something said, or supposed to be said, and all is at a stand, till he has been, through the united exertions of a vexed company, re-assured and put at his ease. Often the most frivolous interruption from such causes will disconcert{219} the whole strain of the conversation, and spoil the enjoyment of a score of people.

“The eager speakers, already alluded to, are a different class from those who may be called the determinedly loquacious. A thoroughly loquacious man has no idea of anything but a constant outpouring of talk from his own mouth. If he stops for a moment, he thinks he is not doing his duty to the company; and, anxious that there should be no cause of complaint against him on that score, he rather repeats a sentence, or gives the same idea in different words, or hums and haws a little, than allow the least pause to take place. The notion that any other body can be desirous of saying a word, never enters his head. He would as soon suppose that a beggar was anxious to bestow alms upon him, as that any one could wish to speak, as long as he himself was willing to save them the trouble. Any attempt to interrupt him is quite hopeless. The only effect of the sound of another voice is to raise the sound of his own, so as to drown it. Even to give a slight twist or turn to the flow of his ideas, is scarce possible. When a decided attempt is made to get in a few words, he only says, with an air of offended feeling, set off with a tart courtesy, ‘Allow me, sir,’ or, ‘When you are done, sir;’ as if he were a man whom nobody would allow, on any occasion, to say all he had to say. If, however, he has been permitted to talk on and on incessantly a whole evening, to the complete closing of the mouths of the rest, he goes away with all the benevolent glow of feeling which arises from a gratified faculty, remarking to the gentleman who takes his arm, ‘What a great deal of pleasant{220}conversation we have had!’ and chatters forth all the way home such sentences as, ‘Excellent fellow, our host,’ ‘charming wife,’ ‘delightful family altogether,’ ‘always make everybody so happy.’

“Another class of spoilers of conversation are the loud talkers or blusterers. They are not numerous, but one is enough to destroy the comfort of thirty people for a whole evening. The least opposition to any of his ideas makes the blusterer rise in his might, and bellow, and roar, and bellow again, till the whole company is in something like the condition of Æneas’s fleet after Eolus has done his worst. The society enjoyed by this kind of man is a series of first invitations.

“While blusterers and determinedly loquacious persons are best left to themselves, and while endless worryings on unknown things are to be avoided, it is necessary both that one or two good conversationists should be at every party, and that the strain of the conversation should not be allowed to become too tame. In all invited parties, eight of every ten persons are disposed to hold their peace, or to confine themselves to monosyllabic answers to commonplace inquiries. It is necessary, therefore, that there should be some who can speak, and that fluently, if not entertainingly—only not too many. But all engrossing of conversation, and all turbulence, and over-eagerness, and egotism, are to be condemned. A very soft and quiet manner has, at last, been settled upon, in the more elevated circles, as the best for conversation. Perhaps they carry it to a pitch of affectation; but, yet, when we observe the injurious consequences of the opposite style in less polite companies, it{221} is not easy to avoid the conclusion that the great folks are, upon the whole, right. In the courtly scene, no one has his ears offended with loud and discordant tones, no one is condemned to absolute silence. All display in conversation will not depend on the accidental and external quality of strength of voice, as it must do where a loud and contentious style of talking is allowed; the soft-toned and the weak-lunged will have as good a chance as their more robust neighbors; and it will be possible for all both to speak and to hear. There may be another advantage in its being likely to produce less mental excitement than the more turbulent kind of society. But regulation is, we are persuaded, the thing most of all wanted in the conversational meetings of the middle classes. People interrupt each other too much—are too apt to run away into their own favorite themes, without caring for the topic of their neighbors—too frequently wrangle about trifles. The regularity of a debating society would be intolerable; but some certain degree of method might certainly be introduced with great advantage. There should, at least, be a vigorous enforcement of the rule against more than one speaking at a time, even though none of those waiting for their turn should listen to a word he says. Without this there may be much talk, and even some merriment, but no conversation.”

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