( Originally Published 1879 )
MANNERS are different in every country; but true politeness is everywhere the same. Manners, which take up so much of our attention, are only artificial helps which ignorance assumes in order to imitate politeness, which is the result of good sense and good nature. A person possessed of those qualities, though he had never seen a court, is truly agreeable; and if without them, would continue a clown, though he had been all his life a gentleman usher. He who assumes airs of importance exhibits his credentials of insignificance. There is no policy like politeness; and a good manner is the best thing in the world to get a good name, or to supply the want of it. Good manners are a part of good morals, and it is as much our duty as our interest to practice in both. Good manners is the art of making those around us easy. Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred man in the company. Good manners should begin at home. Politeness is not an article to be worn in all dress only, to be put on when we have a complimentary visit. A person never appears so ridiculous by the qualities he has, as by those he affects to have. He gains more by being contented to be seen as he is, than by attempting to appear what he is not. Good manners is the result of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial, for the sake of others, and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them. "Manners make the man," says the proverb. It may be true that some men's manners have been the making of them; but as manners are rather the expression of the man, it would be more proper to say—the man makes the manners. Social courtesies should emanate from the heart, for remember always that the worth of manners consists in being the sincere expressions of feelings.
Like the dial of the watch, they should indicate that the work within is good and true.
The young should be mannerly, but they feel timid, bashful and self distrustful the moment they are ad-dressed by a stranger, or appear in company. There is but one way to get over this feeling, and acquire easy and graceful manners, and that is to do the best they can at home as well as abroad. Good manners are not learned so much as acquired by habit. They grow upon us by 'use. We must be courteous, agree-able, civil, kind, gentlemanly, and manly at home, and then it will become a kind of second nature every-where. A coarse rough manner at home begets a habit of roughness, which we cannot lay off if we try, when we go among strangers. The most agreeable persons in company are those who are the most agreeable at home. Home is the school for all the best things.
Good manners are an essential part of life-education, and their importance cannot be too largely magnified, when we consider that they are the outward expression of an inward virtue And how often is this exhibition of the virtues of frankness, gentleness and sweet simplicity, the safest and surest recommendation of those who come to us as strangers in quest of friendly aid. It is quite marvelous, from the fact that by no special training, no aristocratic examples, no conventionalities but those of nature, the gifts of good sense, a true sense of propriety and, native tact, are sufficient qualifications to enable us to glide freely and irreproachably among the elaborated subjects of a regal court. A foreigner once remarked to me, "An American is received in any circle in England," but were we boorish: in manner, and without mental accomplishments, this privilege would not be accorded 'us.
The true art of being agreeable is to appear well pleased with all the company, and rather to seem well entertained with them, than to bring entertainment to, them. A man thus disposed, perhaps. may not have much sense, learning, nor any wit, but if he has common, and something friendly in his behavior, it conciliates men's minds more than the brightest parts without this disposition; it is true indeed that we should not dissemble and flatter in company; but a man may be very agreeable, strictly consistent with truth and sincerity, by a prudent silence where he cannot concur, and a pleasing assent where he can. Now and then, you meet with a person so exactly formed to please that he will gain upon every one that hears or beholds him; this disposition is not merely the gift of nature, but frequently the effect of much knowledge of the world, and a command over the passions.
It is unfortunate that the agreeable should be so often found in unison with the frivolous, for frivolity makes great encroachments upon dignity.
Levity of manners is prejudicial to every virtue. Avoid all sourness and austerity of manners. Virtue is a pleasant and agreeable quality, and gay and civil wisdom is always engaging.
There are a thousand pretty, engaging little ways,. which every person may put on, without running the risk of being deemed either affected or foppish. The sweet smile ; the quiet, cordial bow ; the earnest movement in addressing a friend—more especially a stranger-whom one may recommend to our good regards; the inquiring glance; the graceful attention, which is so captivating when united with selfposses these will secure us the good regards of even a churl.' Above all, there is a certain softness of manner which should be cultivated, and which, in either man or woman, adds a charm that always entirely compensates for a lack of beauty.
Lord Chatham, who was almost as remarkable for his manners as for his eloquence and public spirit, has thus defended good breeding: "Benevolence is trifles, or a preference of others to ourselves in the little daily occurrences of life."
Says Emerson, "I wish cities would teach their best lesson:— of quiet manners." It is the foible especially of American youth—pretension. The mark of the man of the world is absence of pretension. He does not make a speech ; he takes a low business tone, avoids all brag, is nobody, dresses plainly, promises not at all, performs much, speaks in monosyllables, hugs his fact. He calls his employment by its lowest name, and so takes from evil tongues their sharpest weapon. His conversation clings to the weather and the news, yet he allows himself to be surprised into thought, and the unlocking of his learning and philosophy.
One of the most marked tests of character is the manner in which we conduct ourselves toward others. A graceful behavior toward superiors, inferiors, and equals, is a constant source of pleasure. It pleases others because it indicates respect for their personality, but it gives tenfold more pleasure to ourselves. Every man may to a large extent be a self educator in good behavior, as in everything else; he can be civil and kind, if he will, though he have not a penny in his purse.
If dignity exists in the mind, it will not be wanting in the manners. When no seat was offered to the Indian chief Tecumseh, in the council, and he ex-claimed, in a spirit of elevated but offended pride, (at the same . time wrapping his blanket around him), "The sun is my father, and the earth is my mother, I will recline upon her bosom," and then seated himself upon the ground, he displayed a striking instance of genuine and manly dignity. He might have stood for centuries, making Parisian attitudes and grimaces,
"With studied gestures or well-practised smiles,"
and not have been half so noble, commanding and dignified, as by this sublime expression and this simple act.
Dr. Hall says: "The language of a man is a reason-ably good index of his character: the trifler abounds in slang words and slang phrases; the vulgar and low-bred use most glibly the depreciative adjective; they revel in the expletives of liar, scoundrel, swindler; the educated, the cultivated, and the refined, speak softly, quietly, gently; every word is uttered with composure, even under circumstances of aggravation; if annoyed, their severest reproof is expressive silence; and always they maintain their self-respect."
Manners are the ornament of action; and there is a way of speaking a kind word, or of doing a kind thing, which greatly enhances their value. What seems to be done with a grudge, or as an act of condescension, is scarcely accepted as a favor. Yet there are men who pride themselves upon their gruffness; and though they may possess virtue and capacity, their manner is often formed to render them almost insupportable. It is difficult to like a man who, though he may not pull your nose, habitually wounds your self-respect, and takes a pride in saying disagreeable things to you. There are others who are dreadfully condescending, and cannot avoid seizing upon every small opportunity of making their greatness felt.
The cultivation of manner—though in excess it is foppish and foolish—is highly necessary in a person who has occasion to negotiate with others in matters of business. Affability and good-breeding may even be regarded as essential to the success of a man in any eminent station and enlarged sphere of life; for the want of it has not unfrequently been found in a great measure to neutralize the results of much industry, integrity, and honesty of character. There are, no doubt, a few strong tolerant minds which can bear with defects and angularities of manner, and look only to the more genuine qualities; but the world at large is not so forbearant, and cannot help forming its judgments and likings mainly according to outward conduct.
Agreeable manners contribute wonderfully to a man's success. Take two men, possessing equal advantages in every other respect; but let one be gentlemanly, kind, obliging and conciliating; the other disobliging, rude, harsh and insolent, and the one will become rich while the other will starve.
Good manners are not only an embellishment to personal charms, but an excellent substitute for them when they do not exist. When the attractions of beauty have disappeared, there should be an elegance and refinement of manners to supply their place. Beauty is the gift of nature, but manners are acquired by cultivation and practice; and the neglect of them is seldom pardoned by the world, which exacts this deference to its opinions, and this conformity to the least mistakable of its judgments.
The accomplishments so much esteemed in some parts of the world, may be disregarded elsewhere, but wisdom and virtue, intelligence and worth, are universally respected and appreciated, and exhibit that kind of deportment which is everywhere approved and honored.
If Christianity had no higher recommendation than this, that it makes a man a gentleman, it would still be an invaluable element. The New Testament inculcates good manners. Our Savior was courteous even to his persecutors. Look at Paul before Agrippa! His speech is a model of dignified courtesy as well as of persuasive eloquence. A spirit of kindly consideration for all men characterized the Twelve. The same mild, self-sacrificing spirit which pervaded the sayings and doings of the early disciples is exhibited by the true followers of the cross at the present day. A man, it is true, may be superficially polite without being a Christian; but a Christian, by the very conditions of his creed and the obligations of his faith, is necessarily in mind and soul—and therefore in, word and act —a gentleman.