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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Principles Of Politeness

( Originally Published 1902 )



Another important point in decorum is, not to force upon others our own present humor or passing sentiment, but to observe and adopt theirs. If for the moment we are impressed with some strong feeling or in a humor out of tone with that of the company, we should either restrain ourselves, keep silent, or confine our conversation to those who are most likely to be in sympathy with our frame of mind. Peremptoriness and conceit, especially in young people, is contrary to good breeding: they should seldom seem to dissent, and always use some softening mitigating expression.

There is a decorum also with regard to people of the lowest degree; a gentleman observes it with his coachman, and even indeed with the beggar in the street. He considers them as objects of compassion, not of insult; he speaks to neither in a harsh tone, but corrects the one gently, and refuses the other with humanity.

Politeness is one of those social virtues which we never estimate rightly but from the inconvenience of its loss. Though perhaps not distinctly perceived when present, its absence is strongly indicated. The difference between a polite person and one who is impolite is very marked, yet those who do not possess good breeding rarely understand its importance and worth. But as sickness shows us the value of health, so a little familiarity with those who do not trouble themselves to contribute to the gratification of others, but regulate their behavior merely by their own will, will soon make evident the necessity of established modes and formalities to the happiness and quiet of common life.

Wisdom and virtue are by no means sufficient, without the supplemental laws of good breeding, to secure freedom of manners from degenerating into rudeness, or prevent self-esteem from developing into insolence. Incivility and neglect of proper social observances do not necessarily yield remorse of conscience or reproach from reason in those who have not been taught to consider the feelings of others as well as their own. Yet genuine politeness always gives ease and pleasure, while its opposite is likely to impart pain or disgust. The power of pleasing must in great part be conferred by nature, though in a considerable measure it may be cultivated. But though it be the privilege of the few to charm and shine in society, yet all may hope, by the cultivation of good breeding and polite manners, to make themselves agreeable to their associates, though they should have no claim to higher distinction.

The axiom from which flows all the formalities of cultivated society is: " Let no man give preference to himself." This is a comprehensive rule, and it is difficult to imagine an incivility unless it is in some measure broken.



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