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( Originally Published 1902 )
Good manners stand next to a good heart in adapting men and women to the community in which they live. Indeed, so far as the opinion of ordinary society rules, they go further, for however gifted by nature or education one may be, or however well-intentioned and virtuous in conduct, if he is ignorant of the customs and requirements of good society, is awkward or ungraceful in manner, careless in speech, and heedless of social demands, and even of the arbitrary dictates of fashion, he risks exposing himself to ridicule, and may be neglected or contemned, while men far below him in character and ability, but with superior knowledge of correct social deportment, may become the admired favorites of the world. In short, it maybe said that success in life often depends far more on appearance and deportment than on innate character.
According to Swift, good manners are the art of making those people with whom we converse feel at ease. This is doubtless true so far as conversation is concerned. Persons of generous impulses naturally seek to render themselves agreeable to those into whose company they come, and are no more eager to gain enjoyment for themselves than to bestow pleasure upon others. The art of pleasing is, in truth, a simple one, but frequently its cultivation is too much neglected. Many persons become so solicitous for the promotion of their own pleasure as to forget that their neighbors have claims upon them.
Yet every man who enters society should bear in mind that, in a sense, he ceases to be an individual, and becomes part of an association, a social organism, as it has been called; met together, not for any one's personal gratification, but for the pleasure of the whole company.
The first requisite in our intercourse with the world, and the chief in giving pleasure to our associates, is sincerity of heart, a quality which lends the same ornament to character which modesty does to manners. A second important element of social behavior is lack of self-assertion, a modesty of manner, native or acquired, which is in no sense inconsistent with firmness and dignity of character. The well-bred man feels at ease in all companies, is modest without appearing bashful, and self-possessed with out an undue forwardness of manner.