The Value Of Pleasing Appearance
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
One of the most important factors of a good and useful life is that combination of courtesies which go to make up pleasing address. In the great majority of instances a man is judged by appearances. Few people have the time or inclination to inquire into a man's motives and analyze his character before passing judgment upon him. He must stand or fall with the conduct he exhibits when in actual contact with his fellows. For this reason a man who is neatly dressed, with manners and speech that please and attract, always appears at an advantage and is in a position to be respected and advanced when the right occasion presents itself. Two young men applied for a school in a neighboring town. One was a young man of bright intellect, ready in speech, but of slovenly habits. The other was a very ordinary scholar, but courteous and quiet in his bearing. The former sat in the presence of the school officer with his hat upon his head and his hands thrust deeply into his pockets. He spoke fluently of his own high abilities and spit upon the floor. The latter came in with his hat in his hand and remained standing until he was asked to sit down. He then answered the school director's questions in a modest, unassuming manner ; but with so much accuracy of statement that the director saw that he was possessed of a good mind and good sense. It is needless to say that he obtained the position, while his more talented rival was refused. In this instance it was the general bearing of the two young men that decided the question. One lost all by not paying due regard to that "eternal fitness of things " which we call good manners. He failed, as all men will fail who undertake to enter high position, while they consort with that which is low and degrading.
Pleasing manners, then, may be said to have a pecuniary value since they so greatly affect our relations with the world and our ability to get along smoothly with our fellows. A man may start poor; but if he be habitually polite he is armed with a power that will open to him the best that the world possesses. Fine manners have even given to a scoundrel the entre of good society. Lord Chesterfield said that " the art of pleasing is the art of rising, of distinguishing one's self, of making a figure and a fortune in the world." Indeed, the best positions are for those who can enter them, and while they labor for the good of others, return a smile for insults, keep a happy heart and give a polite word to everybody. He who can maintain an unruffled, gentlemanly bearing when . the annoyances and perplexities of business life are crowding, is on the road to success.
For all the purposes of practical life a heart, inspired by cheerful hope, is better than a soul harrowed by perpetual distrust ; a respectful regard for the happiness of others is better than the lack of it ; a quiet, kindly manner is better than a boisterous, offensive conduct that repels friendship and weakens a man's hold on the respect and esteem of his associates. The world is not slow in recognizing the true gentleman and in rewarding him with the best that she has to bestow. Other things being equal, the young man who has mastered the civilities of life starts out at an immense advantage in the way to success.
History is crowded with examples of men who have owed their advancement to courteous manners. David was a youth of pleasing address and found favor in the sight of King Saul and the people. The Saviour himself was the most perfect gentleman the world ever saw. Read the defense of Paul before King Agrippa and see what a master he was of courteous speech. Luther thundered at the gates of Rome, and stirred up the greatest strife of the ages ; but at home he was the kindest of fathers and the most manly of men. A legend is still extant of how gracefully the great Shakespeare appeared before the throne of Elizabeth, and everybody knows that Raleigh flung his laced coat into the mud for the Virgin Queen to walk upon, and then rose to the highest place in the state. Mirabeau was ugly of feature, small and thick of stature; but was so polite that he was a favorite with all the ladies of Paris. George Washington knew well the value of dignified and courteous behavior. It is said that he even saluted his colored body-servant, as well as the highest officer upon his staff. Lincoln, though a man of the people, entirely without the advantages of early training in society, was still a gentleman and knew how to deport himself as such, when raised to the highest office in the gift of a nation. The families of Virginia, have, from early times, boasted of their civility and hospitality and we know that many of them have risen to high distinction in this land. The voice of history is not silent on this point and does "honor to the grand old name of gentleman."
Much, very much, depends upon first impressions and these are, in the main, favorable or unfavorable, according to a man's conduct the first time we see him. A cordial manner will open the doors of friendship at once, while gruffness will shut a man out even from the respect of those whom he meets. Sincere courtesy will place a man high in favor from the start, while coldness will arouse distrust and close all hearts against him. Many a man has destroyed all hope of sympathy and ruined his chances of success by rude conduct among those who could have aided him and helped him on to greatness. It pays best from every point of view to be an honest-hearted gentleman. The glance of the eye, the poise of the head, the pressure of the hand are all taken into account, and we judge a man by the way he has of performing the common civilities of life. Smooth words may cover up the sentiments of wrath and hate; kind acts may be done to conceal the selfishness and meanness lurking within; but the tone in which we say good morning, and the clasp of the hand when we greet another do not generally deceive. These reveal the man, and we seldom have to change our estimate of another, formed at the first meeting.
How necessary then that gentlemanly conduct and sincere kindness of heart should become a part of our daily life. To be simply "on good behavior" is not enough. The matter of good conduct must go deeper to those graces, of character which are revealed by true politeness. This honest courtesy of the heart is one of the greatest aids to advancement and success. It places one at ease among his fellows and wins that respect which is necessary for a man to get up and to get on in any field of endeavor. For the lack of good manners nothing can atone, and it is as far removed from false-hearted etiquette, as the circumference, from the centre of the earth.
John Locke thought that an educator of youth should be well-bred and well-tempered rather than that he should be a thorough linguist or scientist.' Writing to Lord Peterborough upon this subject, he said : "Your lordship would have your son's tutor a thorough scholar, and I think it is not much matter whether he be a scholar or no ; if he understand Latin well and have a general scheme of science, I think that is enough, but I would have him well-bred and well-tempered."
To the mind of England's earliest thinker good breeding and good temper were of more importance than the current idea of a good education, and with him we agree, that the highest proof of practical culture is found in the graces of mind and heart which cannot be learned in books at all, but are the result of associations with gentlemen, lasting through months and years. In the boisterous activities of the present day we are apt to place too low an estimate upon good breeding. The distinguishing marks of a true gentle-man are too often ignored in business life and in all our relations with men. Gruffness seems to be the rule instead of the exception. A young clerk cannot be satisfied until he has made some pert remark or given ground for offence. Brass for brains, cheek for courtesy, rudeness for gentleness seems to be gaining ground in all our communities. The young are no longer taught a becoming reverence and respect for those older in years and experience than themselves. But with a manner that speaks of the street and the shop and the associations of evil, they go into life thinking that force and self-assertion are the only elements that avail in the struggle of life. In this way men and women are coming more and more to despise the small courtesies of polite behavior. But the fact is, force is not the only factor of success. There are qualities of the heart lying back of power, that control and govern it. They are the natural, healthful checks upon the stronger forces of character, and the true gentleman does not despise those "delicate attentions, those nameless and exquisite tendernesses of thought and manner," which give such an indescribable charm to his conduct when in the society of others.
These graces of good breeding no man can afford to ignore. They are not only helpful in the acquisition of fortune, but are a veritable fortune in themselves. I heard this happily illustrated a few years ago by a story: A gentleman, on one occasion, went with a boy, to recommend him to a friend and ask for a vacant position in a store. The proprietor sat in his office and-the boy was introduced.
"Can you write a good hand ? " asked the merchant, kindly.
"Yaas," was the reply.
"Are you good at figures ? " again was asked.
"Very well, I do not want you," said the merchant, and, greatly to the disappointment of the gentleman, the boy was dismissed from the office. The merchant, upon being asked why he did not give the boy a chance, replied : "He has not learned to say 'yes, sir,' and 'no, sir,' and I will not have a boy in my store that has not sufficient civility for that." The lad was an honest and industrious boy, but he had fallen into a habit, young as he was, that turned him away from the first position he ever applied for This merchant had learned from experience that common civility was a necessary accomplishment in a successful clerk, and he knew that a boy who would say "yaas," when applying for a situation, would not improve when subjected to annoyances behind the counter. A fact which any-one can attest, who has had a wide experience with clerks in city stores. Any reader can recall instances in which he has been treated with marked politeness and served with so much kindness that he could not forget it for weeks. And it is always a pleasure to go back to such a clerk to make purchases again and again. And on the other hand, one can recall the rudest behavior and the meanest treatment that he ever received at the hands of men, given by some brainless fop who was employed to measure ribbons, but who had not yet learned the first principles of civility and decency.
The fact is that good manners greatly - increase a man's usefulness, put him where you will.. In the pro-portion that he has learned and can practice genuine kindly courtesy, is he a stronger and better man for any field of work. Esteem, honor, position, wages and success await the honest-hearted man who can go into life and treat others with the consideration that is due to manhood. The lack of this quality will injure any man immeasurably. With Emerson we may truly say, that a beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form; it gives a higher pleasure than statues and pictures ; it is the finest of the fine arts.