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The Failure Of Etiquette

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

Etiquette is but a substitute for good manners and a poor one at that. It is often only a base counterfeit of courtesy. True politeness goes much deeper than artificial rules learned from a book on manners, and no person who is a snob can be anything else but a snob after he has become proficient in the superficial arts of etiquette. In college days the author knew a young man who was perfectly versed in the "ways of good society." His manner in the drawing room, at the table, on the street in company with a lady were faultless, and yet that young man was a scoundrel, a loafer and a sneak. He cheated a poor wash-woman out of a six-weeks wash bill. He had the entre of good society in the city and was at the same time a denizen of the low clubs and dives. He spent the early hours of the night in the company of the fairest and wealthiest young women on the avenue, and the later hours of the night with the lowest in some back street or alley. This young man's success in society was due in part to his father's wealth, but mostly to his faultless dress and manners. But his fine manners were only for ladies use." In company with men he was boisterous, rough and vulgar. Through his knowledge of etiquette he was enabled to play a false role and probably there were those among his acquaintances who never found him out. It is just here that mere etiquette fails. It is almost always used as a cloak to hide unmitigated meanness. The conventional rules of society thus used are the hollow husks of politeness, and they are no more a test of courtesy than the clothes of a dude are of a well dressed gentleman. What we call etiquette, consists in posture making, phrase repeating, empty headed falsehood, sham and nonsense. It is the very essence of impoliteness and incivility ; for, if it is successful, it must proceed from falsehood and insincerity. It cannot come from a true hearted wish to minister to the comfort or happiness of those upon whom it is bestowed. We therefore, frequently see among those studiously polite according to conventional etiquette, the most glaring deception practiced, the most. abominable falsehoods repeated, and the most cruel thrusts given—all in the name of good breeding. The study of etiquette then as a fine art is rather to be deplored than recommended. It is far better to cultivate mind and heart into good behavior, than it is to learn a few conventional rules that shall perchance enable us to pass for what we are not. Such an ideal of conduct is beneath the thought of a true gentleman. The true graces of gentlemanly deportment are run in a finer mould than the deceptive tricks of etiquette.

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